A Look At The Affluenza Controversy - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

A Look At The Affluenza Controversy

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"I was 20 years old making 300-400 thousand dollars a year whatever."

Mark Herm remembers his recent life in the fast lane.

"I just thought I was untouchable," he said, "and I didn't go to school, I thought I was so much smarter than everyone," he said.

He was on his poker game professionally, but his personal life was fueled by drugs and alcohol.

"And I kinda just set up my own map of what was important and what isn't, and I said since I have more than these people then I'm better than them," Mark added.

He was miserable, mean, and a menace.

"I was drunk driving about 100 times in my life, I could have very easily killed someone, it's luck that I never did," he said.

It's why he says he "gets" the 16 year old Texas teen at the center of a firestorm of outrage and debate over the so-called 'Affluenza' legal defense.

"I mean it sounds kinda crazy but I kinda sympathize with him," Mark said.

Only because Mark too was convicted of DUI but he didn't hurt anybody.

And Mark says he does not agree that claiming Affluenza should be used in court to help anybody avoid prison time when they hurt others.

A doctor testified for the defense that Ethan Couch had been coddled so much by his wealthy parents that he had no sense of responsibility.

His blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit when he was charged with setting off a horrific chain reaction accident that killed four people and injured others.

"It just keeps getting worse," said Mark.

"At this point it is not a recognized disease process," said Dr. Karen Abrams.

According to mainline therapist Karen Abrams, people who claim Affluenza likely have bigger issues than being "spoiled or arrogant." Problems that need treatment, and should not used to justify illegal, immoral or unethical behavior.

"They don't have the same level of fear because they think that money can get them out of a bad situation," said Dr. Abrams.

"It's the classic have your cake and eat it too," said a lawyer of one of the young survivors in that deadly crash.

He's suing Couch and his family for damages in a civil lawsuit.

He wants to use that same Affluenza diagnosis as a reason to make the family pay.

It's touched off a firestorm of debate.

"It's a problem in our society that not everybody going to the table with the same set of facts will end up with the same result," Dr. Abrams said.

Fox 29 could not find any cases around Philadelphia where Affluenza was actually used as a defense strategy in court, but we did find some cases that set off controversy when a well-connected defendant did not go to prison.

People are there's buzzing about what may come of other high profile cases heading to court.

"What may work in another state, some type of accuse, I doubt very much is gonna work around here," said Kevin Steele.

In fact, Montgomery County's first Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele pointed to several cases where he says fame, fortune, power or social status may have brought the court down harder.

"Because they've had many advantages and have chosen to go down that path," Steele said.

He says for some cases where they don't throw the book at a defendant, wealthy or not, there are a number of programs that offer justice for victims and provide punishment for offenders, while hopefully changing negative behavior.

"A lot of efforts we're doing is trying to keep people from being recidivists, keeping people from doing it again," said Steele.

Mark says he benefited from similar programs after his DUI case but the punishment didn't really matter he had to change within, in addition to kicking the drugs and booze.

"It's not like I was trying to be good or anything, I was just trying to feel better the way to do that was to be good to people," said Mark.

And he did it with the love of parents, supporting him but never coddling.

Dr. Abrams says she's found it's been necessary for some of her patients to break what can be a vicious cycle.

"And they learn the meaning and value of what they've done. The question is for the people who do get off how are they ever going to understand consequences and learn from their behavior and that's concerning," said Abrams.

 

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