Justice System Jokes: A look at “affluenza” and why it’s a problem

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Justice System Jokes: A look at “affluenza” and why it’s a problem

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Affluenza: noun

af·flu·en·za | \ˌa-(ˌ)flü-ˈen-zə  \

definition of “affluenza:” the unhealthy and unwelcome psychological and social effects of affluence regarded especially as a widespread societal problem: such as

a : feelings of guilt, lack of motivation, and social isolation experienced by wealthy people

b : extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships

(Merriam-Webster)

 

Over the last few years, the United States justice system has shown increasing bias toward the rich. People have been acquitted or given light sentences for serious crimes simply because of their wealth. Meanwhile, other people are going to jail for crimes committed because of their poverty.

In 2013, 16-year-old Ethan Anthony Couch killed four people while driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. In addition to being intoxicated, Couch’s license had already been suspended, and he was speeding in a residential area. Four people were killed, and nine people were injured, including one man who suffered complete paralysis.

Couch was sentenced to ten years of probation and therapy after the teen’s defense system argued that he suffered from “affluenza” and had never been taught that these actions were wrong. He became known online as the “affluenza teen,” and later served two years in jail after violating his probation in April of 2016.

While Couch only served two years total for four counts of manslaughter, in 1997, a homeless man was sentenced to 25 years to life for attempting to steal food from a church.

Gregory Taylor had been previously allowed food and shelter at St. Joseph’s Church in downtown Los Angeles but was arrested when attempting to enter the premises with no one inside. Taylor told the officers that he was “hungry,” he did not carry a weapon, and the church’s priest testified that Taylor was “a peaceful man.”

Taylor ended up serving eight years before being released in 2010.

If these stories are not strong enough examples, consider the stories of Roy Brown and Paul R. Allen, two men in their mid-fifties who went to court for theft in 2011.

Paul R. Allen, 55, of Oakton, Virginia, was convicted of fraud in 2011 for participating in a scheme involving Taylor, Bean, & Whitaker, a mortgage and lending firm. The firm was robbed of $2.9 billion during this scheme, which caused them to declare bankruptcy.

Allen’s fraud also contributed to the sixth largest bank failure in U.S. history: the collapse of Alabama-based Colonial Bank. Allen was sentenced to only 40 months in prison.

However, Roy Brown, 54, African-American and homeless, walked into a bank in Shreveport, Louisiana, with his hand under his jacket. Brown told the teller that it was a gun and that he was robbing them. When the teller gave him three stacks of bills, Brown kept only $100 before returning the rest. He said that he was “homeless and hungry.” Brown turned himself into the police the next day, saying that “[his] mother didn’t raise [him] that way.” He was sentenced to “15 years hard labor without the possibility of probation, parole or suspension of sentence,” according to the Caddo Parish court clerk’s office.

Can a justice system that is so clearly biased be considered truly just? The very fact that “affluenza” is considered a fair argument for causing the deaths of not one, but four, other human beings is unacceptable. The clear bias toward a rich white man who committed a $2.9 billion fraud as opposed to a poor black man who stole $100 and returned it should be shocking, but it isn’t. These stories and others like them should be proof enough that our country’s justice system needs to be revised.

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