Affluenza Defense: Will it work in the Philippines?

April 9, 2016
  • Affluenza in the Philippines
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Affluenza in the Philippines

In the Revised Penal Code, particularly subsection 9 of Article 13 on Mitigating Circumstances, it is provided that the criminal liability of an offender shall be mitigated if, in the commission of the crime, he was afflicted by an illness which diminished the exercise of his will-power. Such illness, however, should not deprive him of his consciousness or his awareness of his acts, otherwise, that might be an exempting circumstance already (insanity).

In Philippine jurisprudence, illness as a mitigating circumstance was applied by analogy in the case of People vs Genosa. This case was a landmark case because it established the Battered Woman Syndrome. In that case, Genosa, who was a victim of prolonged domestic violence by his drunkard husband, killed her husband one day. She killed her in his sleep.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court found Genosa guilty but her liability was mitigated because it considered the fact that as a battered wife, she developed an illness which deprived her full control over her will-power which caused her to kill her husband.

Now recently in the USA, there was this case of Ethan Couch who, while driving under the influence, killed four people.

This case was controversial because the judge sentenced him to only 120 days in jail and 10 years probation, which to many was a mere slap on the wrist.

The judge considered the defense raised by Couch’s lawyer. Their defense was Affluenza.

Now what is affluenza?

Affluenza, which is a combination of “affluence” and “inluenza”, is defined as:

a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.

In the case of Couch, his lawyer was able to convince the court that because of his spoiled-brat upbringing, Ethan Couch’s capability to be a law-abiding citizen was significantly diminished.

In short, it was the theory of the defense that because of the fact that Couch never had the full attention, care, and guidance of his wealthy parents, Couch grew up to be an ill-displined teen (he was 16 at the time of the incident). That being, his ability to determine right from wrong was deeply compromised.

These circumstances were invoked by Couch’s lawyer in order to convince the judge that indeed, Couch has a diminished capacity and that he should not be made to suffer the full consequences of what he had done.

Couch was facing a 20 year sentence but due to the affluenza defense, he received a very light sentence.

Is there a possibility of the Affluenza Defense being applied in Philippine cases?

Yes. Consider Paragraph 10, Article 13 of the Revised Penal Code which provides that any circumstance similar or analogous to the mitigating circumstances enumerated therein can be used as a mitigating cirumstance.

Affluenza is akin to an illness. Just like the Battered Woman Syndrome earlier discussed.

Further, considering our history of following foreign precedence, it would just be a matter of time before we see the term affluenza gets thrown around a lot in court. This is also considering the fact that we  do have a lot of youthful offenders coming from the wealthy sector of the society. I think if Ivler’s lawyers caught wind of the Affluenza Defense during Ivler’s trial, they might have used it in court.

Further still, any circumstance raised in defense by a youthful offender had always been construed favorably for the accused. This is in keeping with the State’s policy to reform the youthful offenders for they are after all what Rizal termed as “Pag-asa ng Inang Bayan”.

But before it can be applied, there are some nuances about it that might affect its application here in the Philippines.

One is that, Affluenza, as raised in the case of Couch only affects the youth. Now what age group does that exactly cover? Note that Couch was only 16 at the time of the crime. He was still below the age of criminal responsibility.

In the Philippines, if you are 15 years old or below, you are exempt from crime. If you are over 15 but below 18, you are exempt if you did not act with discernment. If you acted with discernment, meaning, you were fully aware that you were committing a crime, then you are still liable for the crime but you will suffer a reduced sentence. Your sentence will be suspended as well because you will undergo an intervention program.

Now a conflict might arise if the Affluenza Defense is being used by an offender who is over 15 but below 18 years of age. Will the Affluenza defense be used to prove his lack of discernment? And if Affluenza proved non-discernment, will it be absorbed or will it be later used under Paragraph 10, Article 13 of the RPC – meaning, if it was used to prove non-discernment, will it still be used as an ordinary mitigating circumstance after the privileged mitigating circumstance of minority was already applied.

Now, if Affluenza is being used by a youthful offender who is 18 years old and above, will that defense fly at all. If it would be given credit, until what age limit?

Should there even be an age limit?

I think there should be based alone of the definition of Affluenza.

Further, and more importantly, does Affluenza really exist? Is there an exact science behind this?

These nuances will be settled if a test case shall arise in this jurisdiction.

Frankly though, there is something about the Affluenza Defense (some call it the Rich Kid Syndrome) which is very, very insulting.

Personally, I think that the case of Couch sets a bad precedent.

For one, it rewards bad parenting. It rewards the spoiled-brat lifestyle.

If this gets integrated in our legal principles, it’s as if the law is giving a pass to negligent parents and spoiled kids.

Hey it’s okay for you to neglect your kids because you are rich and if because of your negligence your kid will kill someone someday don’t worry because he will not be treated harshly.”

Some do say that if the Affluenza Defense is applied, the victims can sue the parents instead for damages.

But note that a civil case only involves monetary reparations. How about imprisonment? No more.

And that is sad because if I were a victim or a family of the victim, I would want no less than a lengthy imprisonment for the perpetrator. I do not  need his money.

Besides, what will be the liability of the parents? Is it principal or subsidiary?

Second, the Affluenza Defense is simply shocking to the social conscience. In a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is so appalling, we would be adding more to the gap if we allow the integration of the Affluenza Defense.

It’s been often said that those who have less in life should have more in law.

Now I understand that having “less in life” does not necessarily translate to being poor, for it could also mean “having negligent parents”, BUT, again, in a country marred with poverty, integrating the Affluenza Defense will send the wrong signal.

It’s almost like we are cradling the rich.

Moreso that a criminal’s liability is not mitigated by being poor. A poor man, if he commits a crime, will not receive a light penalty if he invokes that he committed the crime due to poverty. In fact, if he invokes poverty as the reason why he committed the crime, he must prove EXTREME poverty – and that term begs a thorough definition. What does that mean exactly in the first place?

Yes. We do have a legal principle which allows extreme poverty as a defense (but only in crimes against property), but I am yet to see an actual case where such was applied.

In reality, judges do not give credence to such a defense. Sadly, if you are poor and a criminal, you are simply seen as a menace which should be removed off the streets immediately (for the protection of the rich maybe?)

So, really, Affluenza Defense is a big insult to the poor if applied here in the Philippines.

Third, and this is for philosophical reasons, the Affluenza Defense, although reformative in its goal, gives way too much emphasis on the outside forces which purportedly led to the criminal behavior of a youthful offender.

It fails to give emphasis to the youthful offender himself.

It’s treating the youthful offender as a mere by-product of bad parenting. But how about the intellect of the offender himself.

You cannot just totally ignore the fact that the offender is a thinking being.

I am one who thinks that the individual is the driver of his own life. No matter what outside influences come in.

But the Affluenza Defense removes the significance of the self. It relegates the individual as a mere reactant to whatever influences he had in life.

(But then again, isn’t that the purpose of the Affluenza Defense?)

At any rate, I think the Affluenza Defense is a bad fit in Philippine settings. In fact, it’s a bad fit anywhere else. That’s the reason why it received a lot of criticism in the USA… and rightfully so.

How about you? What do you think? Share your insights below!

AUTHOR: Howard Chan is the owner of UberDigests. When he has free time (cough, cough), he takes that time to learn more about SEO, web design, and other stuff about coding. He finished Political Science but is no way a political scientist nor is he a politician. He just passed the 2014 Bar Exams and is currently practicing in the City of Baguio. Feel free to check his Filipinolosophy blog.
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