Opinion Web Exclusive

The lawyers who cried affluenza

Affluenza (1)

Francis Emelogu//The Daily Cougar

Affluenza seems to be sweeping the nation with its latest hit in Delaware. Affluenza — a “disease” that affects wealthy people, giving them symptoms that include a lack of motivation or guilt and a sense of isolation — continues to rise as a legal defense.

In the case of the wealthy Du Pont family heir, Robert H. Richards IV, Judge Jan Jurden sentenced him only to probation rather than prison for raping his 3-year-old daughter because Richards “will not fare well” behind bars.

Jurden said prison will not serve Richards justly, shocking defense lawyers and prosecutors. Richards is supported by a trust fund, and the lawsuit claims that the child abuse occurred both at his Greenville and North Shores homes.

The case became public when attorneys for Richards’ ex-wife, Tracy, filed a lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the abuse of his daughter. Considering the circumstances, some believe her view that treatment will be better than prison is a justification typically used when a sentence is delivered to drug-related offenders rather than child rapists.

According to Delaware Online, with allegations that Richards also molested his son, Richards avoided prison when he pleaded guilty in 2008 to raping his daughter. No evidence was found after the investigation to support a criminal case in the allegations of Richards raping his son. However, during a lie detector test, Richards told the examiner that he was concerned that he also abused his son.

“Whatever I did to my son, I will never do it again,” Richards said.

The statements he made about crimes other than the one he was sentenced for cannot be used as evidence in violation of the defendant’s right against self-incrimination.

Jurden ordered Richards to receive a mental health evaluation and treatment, not have contact with children younger than 16 and pay $4,395 to the Delaware Violent Crimes Compensation Board, according to criminal case records filed with the lawsuit.

The notion that this “sickness” is linked to affluent individuals, allowing them to get lesser sentences than an average defendant, seems to have become an increasing problem. These individuals get to walk away without prison time or the typical heavy consequences.

“I don’t think affluenza is a real thing. People should be held accountable for their actions instead of pinning the problem on fictional disease,” public relations senior Samuel Colin said.

The eight years of prison has been suspended in exchange for eight years of probation. In Richards’ case, however, the probation sentence comes with strict conditions. The conditions include the completion of a residential and outpatient treatment program for sex offenders, close monitoring during the entire probation with zero tolerance for violations and no contact with children, including his own.

“It seems like money can get you out of anything, and that’s exactly what people are doing,” political science junior Dailey Hubbard said.

The legal defense of affluenza is becoming more apparent in the justice system. There’s no definitive science behind affluenza, and until hard evidence supports it, it should be withheld from courts. In a society that places a high value on wealth and success, this unrecognized illness has become the wealthy’s excuse slip.

Affluenza is not in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association, yet court lawyers have popularized the illness.

“There’s a large backlog of cases, and our justice system seems to be focused more on efficiency instead of actual justice,” Hubbard said.

Until it’s recognized in the medical community, affluenza should not hold up in court the way it does today. People are accountable for their own actions, and even if they’re not in a healthy state of mind, there’s a better way to sentence these defendants.

Get them help, but be transparent instead of stamping “affluenza” on their forehead.

Opinion columnist Gemrick Curtom is a public relations junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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