It’s been noted by many, and correctly, that the refusal by some people to accept responsibility for their bad behavior is a growing concern in American society.
Even so, few would have believed the egregious effort to shirk responsibility that was played out in a Texas courtroom last week.
A judge’s decision to give a 16-year-old drunken driver probation in connection with an accident that left four people dead has been met with outrage by relatives of the victims.
The boy’s attorney essentially claimed his condition stemmed from having wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for him.
While we concede the boy’s parents did him no good by spoiling him, this isn’t an excuse for horrific errors in judgment nor does it resolve the boy or anybody else of responsibility.
Yet, it was argued in Fort Worth juvenile court — and apparently accepted — that the boy should not receive the maximum 20-year prison sentence sought by prosecutors because of his “affluenza.” That’s a fancy way of saying the kid was spoiled rotten. Wow.
The argument is indeed an outrage. It could be that the judge considered other factors in opting to order probation and counseling, but that does not mitigate the lousy message this decision sends.
Suniya Luthar, a psychologist who specializes in the costs of affluence in suburban communities, told The Associated Press that her research at Columbia University in New York has shown that 20 percent of upper middle-class adolescents expect their parents will get them out of serious trouble at school. She added that no judge would have let a poor kid off the hook for a crime because of how he was raised.
“We are setting a double standard for the rich and poor,” she said, noting the message is “families that have money, you can drink and drive. This is a very, very dangerous thing we’re telling our children.”
In the wake of the ruling, the outrage has spread across the country as the case has become fodder for the 24/7 cable news channels.
And while that disgust likely won’t make a difference in this case, it could alter the way judges and lawmakers view this defense. The court of public opinion — one that is closely monitored by politicians — has ruled that being overprivileged is not an excuse for criminal behavior.