Ethan Couch Case Prompts California Lawmakers to Mull Banning "Affluenza" Defense

It was inevitable, really. Some lawmaker, surfing the outrage stoked by the wrist-slap handed down to 16-year-old Ethan Couch for drunkenly running over four people in Burleson last summer, was bound to propose a law attacking his novel "affluenza" defense. It's just weird that it would happen in California.

On Tuesday, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto filed a measure that would ban such a defense or, as he puts it, "provide that an act committed by a person is not less criminal by reason of his or her having been raised in an affluent or overly permissive household."

"People often think of the Legislature as too reactive," Gatto told the Los Angeles Times, which refers to his measure as "groundbreaking." "Up until last year, for instance, it was not illegal to commit rape if the victim thought the rapist was her husband or boyfriend, and people said how did you let this stay on the books so long? We're trying to be proactive."


See also: Keller Teen Gets Probation for Drunken Wreck that Killed 4, Pissing Off Just About Everyone

How the rape analogy fits into the debate isn't clear. Also unclear: how passing a law based on a single anecdote could possibly be considered "proactive."

Needless to say, Gatto's proposal is dumb, not just because it treats the outcome of a single case in Texas as a pressing epidemic but because the legislature shouldn't be meddling in criminal defense strategy. Let attorneys trot out the affluenza defense all they want. It's the judge and jury's job to call bullshit.

Expect an equally dumb proposal to surface when the Texas Legislature reconvenes next January.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson