California bill would ban 'affluenza' defense in criminal cases

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Story highlights

  • California legislation would ban "affluenza" as defense or during post-trial sentencing
  • "Majority of us believe that people should own up to their actions," lawmaker says
  • Legislator cites case in which Texas teen's lawyers used defense in case of 4 deaths

It appears to be mere coincidence that a California lawmaker's bill to ban the defense of "affluenza" comes the week before the television debut of "Rich Kids of Beverly Hills."

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, introduced a bill in the state Legislature on Tuesday that would outlaw the defense at trial or during post-trial sentencing, according to a news release from Gatto's office.

Affluenza snared national headlines late last year when Texas teen Ethan Couch received 10 years of probation after slamming into a parked car south of Fort Worth. The struck car then slid into another vehicle moving in the opposite direction.

Four people were killed, and two people riding in the bed of Couch's pickup truck were tossed and severely injured.

Prosecutors wanted Couch sentenced to a maximum of 20 years behind bars, while the 16-year-old's defense team argued that Couch's well-to-do parents should share the blame for the crash because they never set limits and gave him everything he wanted.

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A psychologist testified that Couch was the product of affluenza and told the court that the teen's life could be turned around if he were separated from his parents and placed in a treatment program.

A judge agreed, saying that if Couch violated the terms of his probation, he could face up to 10 years of incarceration, according to a statement from the Tarrant County, Texas, Criminal District Attorney's Office.

    "Perhaps the notion of personal responsibility seems antiquated to some," Gatto said in a news release this week. "But I think the majority of us believe that people should own up to their actions, and that criminals should not be able to use their wealth or privilege to lessen the severity of their sentences. Spoiled children shouldn't be able to spoil the chances of victims to obtain justice when a criminal act has occurred."

    Gatto's legislation, AB 1508, "would forbid a judge or jury from reducing the sentence of a defendant who claims that being raised in a wealthy or excessively lenient household somehow explains or absolves that defendant's guilt," according to the news release.

    The bill specifically states, "Circumstances in mitigation of the punishment prescribed by law shall not include the fact that the defendant may not have understood the consequences of his or her actions because he or she was raised in an affluent or overly permissive household."