What is ‘affluenza’? Drunk driving teen who killed four spared jail


Click to follow
The Independent Online

A Texas teen has been spared jail - despite killing four people in a crash while drunk driving - after his defence team argued he was suffering from "Affluenza".

Prosecutors had pushed for the maximum 20 year prison sentence, following 16-year-old Ethan Couch's admission of intoxication manslaughter. He and seven other friends had stolen alcohol from Walmart, got into Couch's car, and crashed into four pedestrians while driving at 70 miles per hour in a 40 zone.

What is 'affluenza'?

The term was brought to prominence in the 1990s after Jesse O'Neill published 'The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence', in which a range of conditions stemming from overindulgence at a young age were cited - a sense of entitlement, lack of responsibility, and a tendency towards drug-taking included.

A portmanteau of 'affluence' and 'influenza', the theory broadened in the 2000s to become an indictment of modern society as fixated on material wealth leading to over-consumption, waste and unhappiness.

Affluenza is not a condition recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the key text in modern psychiatry.

Has it ever been used in court before?

No. This was a first. And the case has sparked outrage, with psychologists strongly disputing the validity of the diagnosis. Gary Buffone, a Florida psychologist, said "the simple term would be 'spoilt brat'".

How did the defence suggest affluenza had afflicted Couch?

According to Gawker, an expert summarised the case as follows:

'He said Couch got whatever he wanted. As an example, Miller said Couch's parents gave no punishment after police ticketed the then-15-year-old when he was found in a parked pickup with a passed out, undressed 14-year-old girl.

Miller also pointed out that Couch was allowed to drive at 13. He said the teen was emotionally flat and needed years of therapy.

At the time of the fatal wreck, Couch had a blood alcohol content of .24, said Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson. It is illegal for a minor to drive with any amount of alcohol in his or her system.'

Did anyone else buy it?

Not much. Here's a sample of the general feeling