A Texas court recently allowed affluence as an acceptable defense for a sixteen year old teenager who admittedly killed four persons while driving at 70 miles per hour in a 40 mile zone while intoxicated.
The verdict is immoral on so many planes. It rewards a poor little rich kid for being rich. It permits him to get away with murder, quite literally. It ignores not only that he was driving under the inﬂuence of alcohol, but that he is of an age when drinking is illegal. It forbids a record of his crime to be perpetuated, as he was tried as a juvenile. HIs verdict was that he was placed on probation. Only his parents are being punished, as they will pay half a million dollars for rehabilitation.
It makes little difference if one is Liberal or Conservative. When this country ceases to be ruled by law it is time for a Jeffersonian revolution to reestablish and reassert values that have so long bound us as a nation.
Long has this country prided itself on one set of laws for all citizens, rich and poor. It is widely recognized that those who can afford better lawyers often achieve more favorable outcomes in our courts. This may be lamentable, but it does not denigrate the foundation of law upon which America is built. Indeed there is an amount of pride when anyone can beat a system by a system’s established rules. To deﬁne affluence as a rule by which law may not apply at all is a travesty of justice. In this case, rather than the teen facing consequences, the parents who have spoiled him so badly before are now accepting punishment instead of their son.
Americans often regard moneyed classes as awe inspiring and noble. A deep sense of noblesse oblige has led Rockefellers, Kennedys, Roosevelts and others to serve our nation. The Senate is frequently described as a club of millionaires serving at personal, ﬁnancial loss as an act of devotion to American values. Rather than being held responsible because of more extensive personal advantages, this young man was exempted from responsibility. As a “spoiled brat” he had not before been held accountable for his actions in the past, and therefore he was to be again shown leniency. It may point to something that has woefully been asserted and discounted, that the United States has become a country with too great a difference between its richest citizens and all others.
Had the court watched movies that were popular in recent decades, it would have recognized how its ruling ran against the American spirit. Private Benjamin and Overboard, two movies that starred Goldie Hawn, make the point absolutely clear. Even the rich need to get their ﬁngers dirty and live by demands that apply to those less fortunate.
Jewish law is equally vocal. Torah teaches that it is forbidden to favor the rich in judgment or to be lenient with the destitute. Noahide laws, which are Torah-based, rabbinic rules, note that for non-Jews there are only seven rules by which they would be judged when their time comes to meet the Maker. One is that they live be a standard of laws enforced by proper courts.
Forget Jewish law and American tradition., The lectures of Dr. H. Donaldson Dyer, a psychologist colleague from many years ago on the staff of Camp Ramah in the Poconos put it succinctly and bluntly. He taught that there are two types of TLC. The ﬁrst is Tender Loving Care. The second is Tough Luck Cookie. Slang may have changed since the 70s, but the sentiment still applies.
It will be hard to convince any moral American that the Texas court acted rightly or respectfully with regard to the standards and values that law abiding Americans hold dear. Hopefully it is not a portent of worse that lies ahead.