“Affluenza: a psychological disorder afflicting wealthy people with an abnormal sense of entitlement and privilege which can produce feelings, in some individuals, that they are above the moral and legal norms of society.”
* * * * *
The following drunk-driving manslaughter case in Texas provides a poignant example, in a tragically long list of examples, of the structural inequalities built into the American judicial system. When wealth, or other circumstantial factors such as race, effectually determines the outcome of criminal prosecutions, there can be no equal protection under the law as codified by the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
When reading this story, consider what would have likely resulted had the defendant been a poverty-stricken teenager from a racial or ethnic minority group.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Teen sentenced to 10 years probation, rehab in 4 deaths
Posted Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 / star-telegram.com
By Mitch Mitchell
FORT WORTH — A Keller teenager who pleaded guilty to driving drunk and causing collisions that killed four people in June was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years probation.
State District Judge Jean Boyd ordered the 16-year-old to receive therapy at a long-term, in-patient facility. He will stay in Tarrant County juvenile detention until the juvenile probation department prepares a report about possible treatment programs.
If the teen violates the terms of his probation, he could be sent to prison for 10 years.
Prosecutors had asked that the youth be sentenced to 20 years in a state lockup.
Defense attorneys recommended a lengthy probationary term at a rehabilitation facility near Newport Beach, Calif., that can cost more than $450,000 a year. Attorneys said the teen’s parents would pay for the therapy.
The 16-year-old pleaded guilty last week to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. Killed were Breanna Mitchell of Lillian, whose car broke down the night of June 15 on Burleson-Retta Road; Hollie and Shelby Boyles, who lived nearby and had come outside to help Mitchell; and Burleson youth minister Brian Jennings, a passer-by who had also stopped to help.
The teen admitted to being drunk when he lost control of his pickup. He had seven passengers in his Ford F-350, was speeding, had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, plus traces of Valium in his system, according to earlier testimony.
The teen elected to have Boyd sentence him.
The Star-Telegram usually does not identify juvenile defendants.
Two teens riding in the bed of the teen’s pickup were critically injured. Solimon Mohmand had numerous broken bones and internal injuries. Sergio Molina remains paralyzed and communicates by blinking his eyes, according to testimony last week.
Scott Brown, an attorney who represented the teen with Reagan Wynn, said the teen could have been freed in two years if Boyd had sentenced him to 20 years.
“She fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” Brown said.
Richard Alpert, a Tarrant County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case with Riley Shaw, said they were very disappointed with the verdict.
In his closing statement, Alpert said that if the teen continues to be insulated by his family’s wealth, as had happened before, he would be involved in another tragedy in the future.
“There can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the lenient treatment he received here,” Alpert said.
In delivering the sentence, Boyd told the victims’ families in the packed courtroom that there was nothing she could do that would lessen their pain. And she told the teen that he, not his parents, is responsible for his actions.
Boyd said that she is familiar with programs available in the Texas juvenile justice system and is aware that he might not get the kind of intensive therapy in a state-run program that he could receive at the California facility suggested by his attorneys. Boyd said she had sentenced other teens to state programs but they never actually got into those programs.
Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and a daughter in the collision, said there was a lot of disappointment in the room where the victims’ families gathered after Boyd announced the sentence.
“Money always seems to keep [the teen] out of trouble,” Boyles said. “Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If [he] had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.”
Marla Mitchell, whose daughter was killed, said: “He’s not free. None of us knows what God’s plan is. He has not escaped judgment. That is in the hands of a higher power.”
Shaunna Jennings, whose husband was killed, said her family had forgiven the teen, but that did not mean he should not be punished.
“You lived a life of privilege and entitlement, and my prayer is that it does not get you out of this,” Jennings said. “My fear is that it will get you out of this.”
Emotional age of 12
Earlier Tuesday, a psychologist testified that the teen essentially raised himself.
His parents had a volatile and co-dependent relationship, and had a contentious divorce, said Gary Miller, who began evaluating the teen on the day he was released from a hospital after the wreck.
The parents argued often, which the teen witnessed, Miller said.
The teen’s father “does not have relationships, he takes hostages,” Miller said. Miller described the mother as a desperate woman who used her son as a tool to get her husband to act the way she wanted.
The mother gave the teen things, Miller said. “Her mantra was that if it feels good, do it,” Miller said.
The teen’s intellectual age was 18, but his emotional age was 12, Miller told Boyd.
“The teen never learned to say that you’re sorry if you hurt someone,” Miller said. “If you hurt someone, you sent him money.”
Miller said if the teen can get the help that he needs, perhaps he can become a contributing member of society and make amends for the pain he caused so many families.
“This kid has been in a system that’s sick,” Miller said. “If he goes to jail, that’s just another sick system.”
As a child, he had to make adult decisions, Miller said. He had a motorcycle when he was 4 or 5 and was driving large pickups at 13, Miller said. The teen was a high school graduate at 16, but could not say where he went to school, where he went to church and had no friends, Miller said.
His parents never taught him the things that good parents teach children, Miller said.
“He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” Miller said. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”
“Affluenza.” The word alone is enough to make me spit. I sure as hell didn’t make that up — I loathe back-formations, if nothing else. And everything else about this story has me snarling and swearing, fighting to restrain my own homicidal impulses. Just when I think my capacity for outrage and indignation must have shorted out from repeated serious overloads, something like this comes along and re-ignites the whole thing like a solar flare. Or perhaps it’s more of a sewer gas explosion! I’m not sure why this particular incident gets to me. Yes, it is a flagrant example of the rampant inequality and gross injustice increasing by the day in my country. But such is becoming the norm — it’s scarcely a shock any more to see such things — a telling indictment in itself. The rich and powerful seem to feel they are untouchable … and for the most part, they are in fact untouchable! And none of them bothers to pretend they even give a shit. No traces of guilt or shame, no regrets for anything they have or do.
Subtle class warfare has little to recommend it either, but perhaps I’m just getting damn tired of all the in-my-face assaults and batteries from the rich and powerful. Being on the receiving end of such obvious arrogance, indifference, and contempt gets old. Quickly. Can I get a hand with this IGD (Improvised Guillotine Device) I’m working on?
If not, keep reading. Here’s another outraged citizen who examines still more troubling aspects of this case in the following piece. (Yes, she coins a back-formation as well, but I can forgive much in any good cause.)