Don’t Let Criminals Off the Hook for Being Rich

Drunk Driving

Target: Assemblyman Mike Gatto

Goal: Support the ban of using affluence as a defense in criminal cases

California Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced a bill into California’s legislature that would ban defendants in criminal cases from arguing receiving lighter punishments merely because they are affluent or rich. The use of the “affluence defense” made headlines in late 2013, when a Texas teenager killed four people in a car crash. Instead of being sent to jail for the murder of four people, he was instead sent to a treatment program and ten years on probation. The defense argued that since the teenager was not given limits by his parents, he was a product of ‘affluenza’ and shouldn’t be sent to jail.

Sixteen year old Ethan Couch was driving drunk when his vehicle slammed into a parked car. The struck car then hit another vehicle moving in the opposite direction. The accident killed four people, and two were severely injured. State laws state it is illegal to drive while under the influence, and prosecutors were hoping to send Couch to jail for the maximum sentence of twenty years. Instead, thanks to a statement issued by a psychologist that claimed Couch was a product of affluence, he was sent to a treatment program and ten years of probation. If Couch were to violate his probation, he would be incarcerated for ten years.

Following this incident, Mike Gatto introduced this legislation with the following statement, “Perhaps the notion of personal responsibility seems antiquated to some. 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.”

The bill Gatto has introduce will “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.” The bill also prevents the defendant from being acquitted of crimes because he/she did know the consequences of their crime due to being raised in an affluent household.

Spoiled children should be held accountable for their actions, and the fact that Ethan Couch was able to avoid prison after killing four people reveals a major flaw in our justice system. Using affluence as a defense in court is a laughable excuse for one’s actions and should be banned immediately. Sign this petition if you believe all people, even spoiled children, should be held accountable under the law.


Dear Mike Gatto,

I am writing this letter in support of your bill that was introduced into California’s legislature, which bans the use of affluence as a defense in criminal court. After reviewing what happened in the case of Ethan Couch, a drunk driver who killed four people, I am appalled that this defense could even be used. Everyone should be held equal under the court of law, and he shouldn’t have been an exception.

Therefore, I give you my support and hope that this defense will never be used again. It reveals a major flaw in our system and no doubt has let down the families of the people Couch killed. I do not want to see future victims and families see a killer walk away free because he or she was wealthy or ignorant of the law.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: vikisuzan via flickr

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105 Signatures

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