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More on Affluenza

Manny Fernandez and John Schwartz have this article in the NYT, following up on the teenage drunk driver who killed four people and got off with probation, claiming the "mitigating" circumstance that his parents were rich and had spoiled him rotten.  See Bill's prior post.

Liz Ryan, the president and chief executive of the Campaign for Youth Justice, a group in Washington that advocates for juvenile rehabilitation, said that in a series of recent cases before the Supreme Court and state courts, advances in neuroscience have been applied to questions of crime and punishment for young people.

"They make mistakes, they're prone to impulsive behavior," Ms. Ryan said. "And at the same time, they are capable of change."

But a prominent advocate for victims' rights reacted to the sentence with scorn. "Just when you think our excuse-making culture has sunk as low as it can go, somebody goes yet lower," said Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento.

Scott Brown, Mr. Couch's lawyer, said that while the word affluenza may have become an object of fascination, it was never at the heart of the case. His client had already pleaded guilty, and the word came up in hearings on punishment. "I never used the word affluenza, and never would have used such a cute word in such a serious, tragic case," Mr. Brown said. "That's just been blown completely out of proportion."

*                                           *                                        *

Bill Berenson, a lawyer for Mr. Molina's parents, said his clients were stunned by the sentence. "Their son is paralyzed, four people are dead and the perpetrator gets his wrists slapped," he said. "How could they not feel that his affluence kept him from serving time?"

I can appreciate Brown's point that the word has been blown out of proportion, but this isn't, or shouldn't be, about the word.  This is about the ridiculous extremes to which we are taking excuse-making, whatever label may be applied.


The whole idea that youths' brains aren't developed may in fact be true--but how does it follow that youths shouldn't do time when they recklessly kill four people?

Federalist hits the nail on the head. The fact that a teenager's brain isn't fully developed is all the more reason to teach youthful offenders that their choices have serious consequences, because they will be more likely to learn from it and not repeat the same bad choices in the future. Excusing the behavior just makes it more likely that it will be repeated. Why is that so hard to understand?

The idea that because teenagers have underdeveloped brains they shouldn't be held fully responsible only begs the question of how much brain development does one need to be held fully responsible. I suspect that most people in prison have underdeveloped or abnormal brains at some level but they are nonetheless responsible for their conduct.

I love it when a clever defense lawyer comes up with something like "affluenza" (don't you know he was chuckling to himself when he invented that one?), only solemnly to avow that the word has been "blown out of proportion" when anyone dares point out the slick and hypocritical thinking it ever so aptly embodies.

I googled "full development of the human brain" and best I could find was some studies about certain synapses related to risk taking present in teens which disappear when one enters his or her mid 20s. Perhaps that is why I stopped smoking at around age 25.

I think the better question is at what age does a human grasp basic morality i.e. don't steal, don't harm another etc... I imagine it is quite younger than 18.

However, my political 2 cents on this, is part of the problem is if we treat people like kids, they act like kids. I firmly believe that if you are old enough to vote, serve in the Army, get executed, you are old enough to have a drink or a smoke (of the legal variety whereever you may be). Not that this case has anything to do with that, I just think it is a small part of the problem / issue.

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