“I am not responsible for my behavior because my parents didn’t hold me accountable for my behavior. I never really learned that my untoward actions have consequences. Therefore, I should not be held accountable now—or at least I should be held less accountable than someone who experienced first-hand that undesired behavior has negative consequences.”
In December, a Texas teen killed four people while driving under the influence of the alcohol he had stolen from Walmart earlier that day. The sentencing guidelines for such a crime called for up to a $10,000 fine and between two and 20 years of imprisonment, but because the teen suffered from what his lawyers called “affluenza,” the Texas teen was sentenced to ten years of probation, and will be going to rehab in a posh, long-term treatment facility that offers equine therapy and organic food choices.
Affluenza is not a search term that will return many results in a legal database, but it was used here as a mitigating factor in the Texas teen’s sentencing. The teen’s lawyers used the term to argue that “because of his family’s wealth and child-rearing style, [the teen] never learned that his actions had consequences.” Many feared that the success of the teen’s affluenza defense would open the floodgates to other absurd and farfetched claims, but so far that has not been the case. Earlier this month, however, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced a bill that would bar the claim of affluenza as either a defense or a mitigating factor. If the bill passes, it could convince other states to follow California’s lead.
The state of Florida’s mitigating factors are listed in Florida Statutes § 921.0026, however the list is not exhaustive, and other factors that “reasonably justify” a downward departure in sentencing may be accepted. While it is up to a judge to determine what he or she deems reasonable to justify a downward departure in sentencing guidelines, there is no Florida statute that specifically prohibits a defendant from claiming affluenza as a mitigating factor or defense. Given the recent media attention and criticism to the Texas teen’s case, it is unlikely that an affluenza claim will again be successful.
Mitigating factors are conditions surrounding a crime which do not excuse or justify an acts criminality, but are considered out of mercy or fairness in deciding the charges brought by the prosecutor or the penalty a court imposes after conviction. The attorneys at Khonsari Law Group are very experienced in the area of criminal law, including driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter. Formerly recognized as a top prosecutor in the field of DUI and DUI manslaughter cases, Rohom Khonsari understands the inner workings of such complex cases and uses his unique experiences as a prosecutor in preparing defenses. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Khonsari Law Group today.