A judge’s discretion in forgoing jail time for a teenage drunk driver who killed four people is being called into question in the national press this week. The case involves a 16-year-old who apparently stole beer from a local store and then drove drunk, eventually crashing into a distressed vehicle and several bystanders who had stopped to render aid. The 16-year-old was sentenced to rehabilitation and probation, but no time behind bars, after successfully arguing that he did not appreciate the connection between his actions and consequences due to a psychological condition called “affluenza”.
The case is making waves because “affluenza” has been described as an ailment for the very rich, who are elevated by privilege to the point of experiencing a disconnect between their behavior and any negative results. To many on the outside looking in, the lenient sentence in this case seems to be a perfect example of a wealthy person getting away with conduct that others would be put in jail for.
The family members of the four victims of the car accident asked the judge for a 20-year sentence. The judge has yet to explain her rationale for imposing only rehab and probation.
The victim’s families are not out of options for seeking justice for their loss and attempting to hold the teenager who caused this tragedy responsible. They do have the option to pursue wrongful death litigation and seek civil compensation for the loss of their loved ones. These types of lawsuits cannot truly make up for the pain of an accident like this one, but it can help secure a sense of justice in a situation where other remedies have failed.
Source: Slate, “A Wealthy Teen’s Defense For a Deadly Drunken-Driving Crash: “Affluenza,”” Jason Voorhees, Dec. 12, 2013.