Creative Criminal Defense – The Affluenza Argument

Creative Criminal Defense – The Affluenza Argument .

A strange story out of Fort Worth Texas.

Ethan Couch, a 16-year old-boy who was speeding and Driving Under the Influence—with a BAC that was THREE times the legal limit for Texas juveniles—struck and killed 4 people.  Rather than charging him as an adult, the boy went through the juvenile court system.

The prosecution argued for a 20-year-sentence, but the boy’s defense attorney found a psychologist, who convinced the the court the boy “suffered” from “Affluenza”. The judge ordered him onto probation for 10 years and into an expensive rehab program.

The theory behind this novel defense is that Ethan’s parents were quite affluent (hence the word AFFLUENZA), argued all the time, and never set any limits.  As a result, Ethan did not understand what it meant to be accountable for his actions in the real world. In other words, the defense in this DUI homicide was that the boy was spoiled rotten by his allegedly self-absorbed feuding wealthy parents.

News outlets, such as NPR reported that the cost of the undisclosed California rehab program where the parents were ordered to send the boy was $450,000!!! The same news outlets pointed out that in another juvenile homicide the year before, the same judge had sentenced a 14-year-old African American boy to 10 years in the juvenile lockup facility for punching another boy, causing him to fall, strike his head on a rock and die.

This defense is just the opposite of the often-heard defense argument that a neglectful underprivileged upbringing will lead to a life of crime. “Affluenza” would mean a disconnect from social responsibility due to a sense of being “over-privileged”.

Many years ago in San Francisco, the “Twinkie Defense” was made famous when Dan White, a county supervisor who killed San Francisco mayor George Moscone and supervisor and gay activist Harvey Milk successfully argued that his diet of junk food had caused a mental health breakdown.

Just like the “Twinkie Defense”, I would not expect the “affluenza” defense to ever work again in a crime as serious as a multiple homicide. In fact, the expert that convinced the judge to give young Ethan a second chance wishes he hadn’t used that term.  One also expects civil wrongful death actions would be likely brought against the parents of the Texas boy, who may no longer be affluent.

If you or someone you know is accused of a crime, arrested, or contacted by police, contact San Jose criminal defense attorney Maureen Baldwin at (408) 279-4450 to learn your options today!

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