Affluenza is a psychological malaise that is said to affect wealthy young people who in all understanding have developed a need to “keep up with the Jones.’” This need to maintain a certain financial status or to ensure consistent attendance in this social class leads to depression, guilt and a lack of motivation, among other issues which vary in degree.
The term can be traced back to as early as 1954, with a self titled TV show airing on PBS. Affluenza has most recently shown itself in a case hailing from Texas where a 15 year old teen (in 2013) was arrested for drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter. The teen Ethan Couch, heavily intoxicated killed 4 people and wounded another. Couch’s defense hired a psychologist who stated that the teens’ extremely affluent lifestyle and upbringing, mixed with his parent’s enablement of such a lifestyle was to blame for his recklessness in his decisions and on that night, behind the wheel. Oddly enough, Couch at the time was not old enough to be driving and his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. Everything is bigger in Texas, including ridiculous defense arguments.
The question I pose to you the reader is this, If you can defend an atrocious crime such as vehicular man slaughter from drinking and driving, can we find a term for crimes committed due to the lack of money? Can we say that John Doe could be found not guilty of petty theft simply because he was stealing to provide for this family?
To understand a poverty defense we must first understand poverty’s effect here in America. In 2010, it was recorded that more than fifteen percent of Americans lived below the poverty line making a little more than $22,000 a year. Meaning a family of four is said to be able to survive off of $22,000 a year. In the same year it was said that 6.7 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line. The issues of mass incarceration, criminalizing homelessness and jailing people who are in major debt, do nothing but feed a black hole that is created by poverty.
Among others, there are two defenses that could be used in a poverty defense. Those defenses are; the social forfeit theory and the link between poverty and child neglect. The social forfeit theory proves my initial argument, how can we convict a person because they are stealing basic necessities. Many children are neglected, not because the parent(s) could not love them, but they could not provide for their child. Many people may say that there is more than enough government assistance. The issue with government assistance is that there are so many people on government assistance that the waiting time can be disastrous and being approved is harder than one may think. In a study conducted by the Consumer Expenditure Interview Survey in 2011, homes with two owners still make up 48 percent of those on government assistance. What may be most alarming to many people is the lopsided number of African Americans to Caucasians on government assistance. I think what makes it alarming is not the race issue, but simply a needs issue. Whether black, white or blue, a significant amount of people are still living in poverty. What I really want to convey to you for your thinking is, why do we as a country promise life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but when people who are clearly in need go in search of it, we deny them and tell them there is no way. In no way do I condone robbery and theft from people who are not trying to provide a necessary need for themselves or their family, stealing for the sake of stealing should still be punishable.