Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Rich Kid Defense, 4 Traffic Deaths Plus a Screwy Diagnosis

How does a jury or judge accept a “rich kid defense” in a car crash that resulted in the death of four persons? A 16-year-old boy who had been drinking was driving the car that apparently was the cause of the accident. How do you get this kid off from this seemingly open-and-shut case of motor vehicle homicide (forgive me, I’m not an attorney)? Why, of course, you call a psychologist who comes up with a new twist on psychobabble and provides a diagnosis of “affluenza” for the young offender.

The details of the case are pretty grim and involve stealing liquor from a Wal-Mart, drinking and then driving a truck 70mph in a 40mph zone.  Plus the young Texan who was driving had the tranquilizer Valium in his system. Anyone with any knowledge of pharmacology will tell you that drinking alcohol with this drug potentiates the effect and makes it much, much more likely to impair someone’s abilities. Well, that’s probably why many people just love to use these types of drugs when drinking. Ah, such pharmaceutical delights as can be found in your parents’ medicine cabinet if you are so fortunate.  The media has reported that the young man’s blood alcohol level was anywhere from three-four times over the legal limit for intoxication in Texas.

Who were the persons killed by this reckless young man who is to be sent for rehab at a facility that has horseback riding, yoga and massage as part of its treatment? They included four Good Samaritans helping a stranded motorist who were victims hit by the kid’s truck going 70mph. Of course, there were others who were not killed, but left injured and, in one case, paralyzed.

The defense was that the young man came from a home of such incredible affluence and, apparent disregard for social norms I suppose, that he just didn’t know right from wrong. Tell me, did this kid go to school and were the teachers there also absolutely absent when it came to social norms of behavior and using any type of alcohol or drugs? Did he live in a bubble that kept him from even the faintest hint of social responsibility? But there’s one more thing here and that cannot be dismissed because it involves a licensed mental health professional.  News reports have identified the professional as both a psychologist and a psychiatrist and this, in and of itself, isn’t so unusual because the media often misidentifies both professions. Guys, psychologists have doctoral degrees and psychiatrists have M.D. degrees.

Question for Dr. G. Dick Miller, Texas psychiatrist or psychologist: Where in the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is the diagnosis of “Affluenza” found? That book, of course, is the official “bible” of diagnosis and only recognized disorders are listed. If this isn’t a recognized diagnosis, how did you come up with it and how does this type of action mesh with your ethical/legal responsibilities and your license to practice psychiatry or psychology in Texas? Has the licensing board asked for this type of information? For me, and I’ve only worked in the field (spent 10 years in forensics) for three decades and I’d really like to increase my knowledge here because it could be a quite lucrative means of gaining substantial income. So, please, educate me regarding the diagnosis, the research support for it and how I can use this in any future practice I may care to engage in where it would be useful. I would like a house in Malibu or maybe even a Benz and this type of work could make that possible for me.

I know that when Ronnie Zamora in Florida, several decades ago, used the defense of “Television Psychosis” that the jury didn’t buy that one. But Ronnie was a kid from Cuba who was left home alone most of the time because both his parents had to work to try to support the household. He was sent to jail even though his defense attorney tried to make a case that watching TV shows with famous detective leads had distorted his perception of right and wrong. Shooting and killing an elderly neighbor, according to his logic, was the norm for this kid.

In the most recent case in Texas, however, who made the determination that a mental health professional can come up with an original, if way out in left field, diagnosis that makes no sense and has no backing in the field? Is the mental health professional held to no standard and can they come up with anything they want to explain horrendous behavior? What was the judge thinking, too? Didn’t he ask for something from the prosecution regarding this diagnosis? Oh, DA, did you question this guy about the diagnosis or were you just floored by how much genius he displayed on the stand?

I suppose this not only makes a mockery of the field of mental health diagnosis, it reinforces the notion that it’s perfectly all right to invent diagnoses to fit whatever situation where you are a paid consultant. I’d say it’s just another example of attribution of responsibility outward and, if that’s true, shouldn’t the parents be held responsible for what might even reach the standard of child abuse or neglect?  After all, their own attorney for their son said as much. Yes, the dad says he’s willing to pay $450K a year to send his son to a California rehab and I guess that indicates some sense of responsibility on his part.

The parents failed to provide an environment that helped this young man adhere to the standards which courts expect regarding alcohol use, speeding and the use of prescription drugs. Oh, by the way, did he have a prescription for the Valium or was it something he bought or found in his home medicine cabinet? If guns need to be secured in the home, shouldn’t medications of this caliber also be secured? If not, shouldn’t there be consequences as there would be if you permitted minors to have access to alcoholic beverages in the home?

Perhaps this is just another example of two systems of justice in our country; one for the rich and one for the poor. What do you think? Yes, there are civil suits being lodged in this case.