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California legislator aims to outlaw 'affluenza'defense

By Natalie Brunell, KESQ News Channel 3 & CBS Local 2 Reporter, Natalie.Brunell@kesq.com
Published On: Jan 16 2014 02:00:00 AM CST
Updated On: Jan 17 2014 02:00:00 AM CST

California legislator aims to outlaw 'affluenza' defense.  Natalie Brunell reports.

Too spoiled to know better. That's what Texas teen Ethan Couch's defense lawyers claimed last year, when the 16-year-old drove drunk into a parked car, killing four people. 

Ever since, the term "affluenza" has been sparking controversy.

"It's the idea that someone is not criminally responsible for their actions because of the way they were raised, either in an affluent or overly permissive manner," said criminal defense attorney Shannon Goldstein.

The defense helped save Couch from serving 20 years behind bars, he got 10 years probation instead. Goldstein says the case calls into question the notion of personal responsibility.

"It's too much, we're letting our kids get away with too much and they're not seeing the consequences of their behavior," she said.

Tuesday, Los Angeles Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced a bill in state legislature that would outlaw using 'affluenza' as defense in a trial.

If signed into the law it "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." 

While the term may not sit well with people, Goldstein says someone's background is always important in a case. 

"If you're 16 and you have no idea what's right and wrong and you only know what you were raised, then I don't see it any different than saying I was raised in a family that abused me," Golstein said.

And with so many celebrities getting in trouble with the law in our own backyard, it's no surprise the bill could have a lot of impact in our state. 

"I do think in California you might be cutting some people off at the knees with that, or you might be forcing some people to get a little more creative," Goldstein said.