EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


December 29, 2013

Column: It's such a burden being filthy rich

Being rich is a burden. There’s a reason that comic book character Richie Rich was dubbed the “poor little rich boy.” You think it’s a picnic being the only child of billionaire parents and having two of everything? How are you supposed to choose between them? And who gets stuck paying the inheritance taxes?

The rich can’t catch a break. They’re given their own reality shows and gossiped about in the tabloids, as icons and amusement for others. But then they’re expected to follow everyone else’s laws like nobodies. The money people happily take from them at other times isn’t supposed to influence justice.

Except that it did recently in Texas, turning the stuff of parody into a national outrage.

A rich teenager walked away with probation after killing four people and seriously injuring two others while driving drunk. The judge accepted the contention of a defense psychologist that the teen was the victim of “affluenza,” raised with such wealth and entitlement that he never learned from his mistakes and was not responsible for his actions.

At 16, Ethan Couch got drunk on stolen booze, mixed it with Valium, drove with three times the legal amount of alcohol in his blood (though 16-year-olds can’t legally drink at all) at 30 mph above the speed limit. He slammed into someone whose car had broken down, and others who had come to help. One person who wasn’t killed remains paralyzed, unable to speak.

Prosecutors had sought a 20-year prison sentence. But for all of his flagrantly illegal and multiply fatal actions, Couch got away with only 10 years of probation and an order to spend some time -- his defense suggested a year or two -- at a $450,000-a-year treatment facility. It features “equine therapy” and organic foods and should fit his parents’ $10 million a year budget.

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