Public opinion on the affluenza defense, race, and sentencing decisions: Results from a statewide poll

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Ever since the highly publicized Texas case in which a wealthy, Caucasian teenager invoked affluenza as a mitigating factor during his homicide trial, public discourse has debated the appropriateness of considering wealth during criminal sentences. Underlying this debate is a question about race: would a black defendant have the same chance of successfully using the affluenza defense? Intersectionality suggests that considerations of class, as implicated by the affluenza debate, are necessarily conditioned by understandings of race. This research examines whether public opinion supports the idea that extreme wealth contributes to criminal offending; whether affluence should be considered during sentencing; and whether a black defendant would able to use the affluenza defense successfully. Examining public opinion data from a statewide poll in Pennsylvania, this research explores public opinion on affluenza and examines whether race and other demographic characteristics influence the attribution process. The researchers use multivariate models to investigate significant predictors tied to respondents opinions, and they make observations about the impact of these factors on due process in sentencing procedures. This research provides an important first step in exploring whether the public perceives affluenza to be related to offending, related punitiveness, and the interplay of race with that attribution process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)230-242
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Crime and Justice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


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