Capitol Alert: 'Affluenza' defense would be banned under Mike Gatto bill

jwhite@sacbee.comJanuary 15, 2014 

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Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles

RICH PEDRONCELLI — Associated Press file, 2011

Wealthy defendants beware: Under a new California bill, you could no longer invoke the psychological effects of those distorting dollars.

People concerned about a multi-tiered justice system that favors the rich found some evidence during the trial of Ethan Couch, a Texas teen who cut down four people with his car while driving drunk.

Despite those deaths, Couch received a lenient sentence with no jail time. His defense team reportedly argued that a money-infused upbringing had clouded the teen's judgment, giving him a skewed sense of consequences (or lack thereof).

Now Assembly Bill 1508, by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, would bar the so-called "affluenza" defense from being deployed in California courts.

Gatto said the Couch case had outraged people who felt justice was not served. He paraphrased the type of defense he's trying to remove from attorneys' toolboxes as "the kid had an over-privileged upbringing but now he's learned his lesson, your honor."

"When this defense was raised, it really just offended most peoples senses of what's fair," Gatto said. "I think our laws need to reflects society's values and if they reflect society's values they will say this defense shouldn't be recognized."

The legislation would not prevent defense attorneys from arguing that their client had suffered from an abusive upbringing, Gatto said. He argued that defense tactics evolve over time, noting that the insanity defense arose relatively recently.

"I just think it really is one of those times where unless we're proactive it could become something that's far more common," Gatto said.

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