By Tahlia Terhune, Columnist
The United States justice system is always a topic of controversy, especially in cases that appear to be swayed by money. If money has the ability to directly or indirectly persuade the criminal justice department to award a lesser sentence, we are facing a critical problem. We will lose the value of justice and the accountability of good ethics.
As students, we are privileged to have a network in which we can create change and take a stance. With such absurd cases, something must be done. The reoccurrence of wealth and privilege in cases where murderers and molesters are being let off with no or minimal jail time must be a reflection of the flaws in our justice system.
Ethan Couch, a Texan teen, killed four people while driving under the influence. According to CNN, the teen was underage and recorded a blood alcohol content of 0.24 three hours after the accident. While prosecutors requested he receive the maximum of 20 years behind bars, he was only given 10 years of probation. Due to a claim of “affluenza,” he was let off.
In this incident, Couch’s lawyer claimed that due to his parent’s wealth and privilege, the boy never learned limitations. His lawyer argued that when people don’t have limits, it hinders their sense of consequences. Many have argued money made a significant impact on the outcome of this court ruling.
Victim Eric Boyles, who lost both his wife and daughter to the teen, said “Had he [Couch] not had money to have the defense there, to also have the experts testify, and also offer to pay for the treatment, I think the results would have been different.”
It is difficult in cases with such a young person to distribute harsh punishment. “I don’t think they should have put him in jail for 20 years, because he messed up once,” sophomore Lucas Reinhard said. “He made a mistake and that would ruin his life.”
While it is hard to deliver such a severe disciplinary action against a young person, we must take note of the principle of the matter. We need to acknowledge the fact that he was not of age to be drinking, and he killed four people.
Another controversial case was that of Robert H. Richards IV, heir to the American chemical company DuPont, who avoided prison time when charged with fourth degree rape of his three-year-old daughter, according to The Independent. Richards’ argument for a reduced sentence was that he would not fare well in prison.
The rape charge Richards received typically carries a 15-year sentence, however, Richards was able to avoid this when a Superior Court judge agreed with his argument, concluding that child molesters are frequently targeted by inmates. Richards now serves time on his probation. As stated by The Independent, Richards does not work and lives off of his trust fund while serving time on probation. What we need to question is if he will have a change of character or ever comprehend the depth of his actions.
The justice system administered hardly any consequences to either Couch or Richards. The severity of their actions is incomparable to the punishments they received. Both from wealthy families, one can’t deny the fact that money has a correlation with a reduced sentence. The reality that money is power is seriously destroying our justice system and the equal assessment of all offenders. These cases make media coverage and take priority in headlines in the news and then fade away.
People need to take a stance and hold our entire justice system accountable for what is going on. As active members of social media, we should be using these as a resource to shed light on these serious matters. According to spredfast.com, 47 percent of users share videos or photos they found online. Students could be creating photos or video campaigns to call out the faults in our justice system.
Even writing a tweet directed to gain awareness can spark dialogue for change. Digital Buzz Blog stated 28 percent of retweets on Twitter are due to the tweet simply containing the phrase “please RT” (please retweet). This task is incredibly simple and hardly time consuming, but has the potential to make a significant impact on a flawed justice system. ◼︎