01/16/2014 12:34 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

California Lawmaker Mike Gatto Introduces Bill Banning 'Affluenza' Defense


A California lawmaker wants to outlaw privileged defendants from using their wealth as a defense in court.

State Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) has authored legislation that would ban individuals from using the so-called "affluenza" defense in California courts. The bill, introduced Gatto on Tuesday, defines this as “the notion that an affluent or overly permissive upbringing prevents a defendant from fully understanding the consequences of criminal actions.”

"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," Gatto said of the legislation, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Last month, prosecutors sought to put Texas teenager Ethan Couch behind bars for 20 years after a drunk-driving accident that killed four people and seriously injured two others. However, Couch's defense team argued that the wealthy 16-year-old suffers from "affluenza" and therefore had no ability to rationalize the connections between his behavior and its consequences. According to KHOU in Houston, a psychologist called to testify by the defense claimed Couch's parents had given him "freedoms no young person should have," and therefore the teen could not be held responsible for his actions.

Couch was ultimately sentenced to 10 years probation.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Gatto said Couch's case inspired his bill.

"It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that the relatively lenient sentence that this gentleman in Texas received will lead attorneys to see this is something to use in their overall tool box," Gatto said.



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