The Affluenza Defense: Brilliant Lawyering
A lot of people are rightfully enraged at the moment. A drunk 16-year-old, with two people riding in his truck bed, slammed into three people who had stopped to help a stranded motorist. Those four people died, one of the individuals who was riding in the pickup truck bed can now only communicate by blinking, and who knows how many people were injured between the truck's other passengers and the oncoming car that collided with the wreckage.
Three hours after the accident, the kid's blood alcohol content was 0.24, three times the limit for someone of legal drinking age, an age he won't reach for five more years, reports the Star-Telegram.
Any other defendant would have spent at least some time in a juvenile incarceration facility, and maybe even an adult facility. Prosecutors were seeking a twenty-year term. His punishment? Ten years of probation, and treatment at a $450,000 per year rehabilitation facility in Newport Beach, California.
Why? Quite literally, because he is rich.
Affluenza Defense: Because Twinkies are for Poor People
Let's all take a moment, and set aside any feelings we have on the justness of the sentence, and appreciate the work of the attorneys here. Seriously, it takes major, major fortitude to push a defense that no one has ever tried before, and even more fortitude to try a my client is so rich that he suffers from spoiled brat syndrome defense.
Because, yes, that is the defense here.
Lead attorney Scott Brown, along with his co-counsel Reagan Wynn, actually found a psychologist who could testify with a straight face that the defendant suffered from affulenza, a made-up word that means that the child was raised with everything, including way too much money and privilege, and with no boundaries whatsoever.
His family situation was apparently unenviable. His father was a reportedly a non-entity due to an ongoing divorce, and the mother apparently spoiled him beyond belief. According to the Star-Telegram, he had a motorcycle at age 4 or 5, drove large pickups at age 13, graduated high school at 16, and yet had no friends and couldn't name his school or church.
"He never learned that sometimes you don't get your way," the expert said. "He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle."
We can wait to see if someone with an equally terrible upbringing, but from the ghetto, tries "hoodenza." How many times have we seen defendants with a drug-addicted mother and no father in the picture, who had to commit crime to survive? Surely that's a less culpable scenario than someone who was riding Harleys in preschool.
Either way, kudos to the defense attorneys here. We've seen some crazy defenses, such as over-caffeinated (failed), the urban legend Twinkie defense (semi-failed), and the antidepressant-made-me-do-it defense (also seems to have failed).
What's the Actual Sentence?
If you're miffed by the sentence, it's not as bad as it seems (though yes, it is pretty bad). Brown told the Star-Telegram that had his client received the twenty-year sentence requested by prosecutors, he could have been set free in two years (upon reaching the age of majority). Instead, he'll be "under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years," Brown said.
Good point. And if affluenza is as serious and chronic of a condition as it seems to be, the odds of him screwing up because of his unlimited funds and lack of boundaries is high. Maybe he'll end up with a lengthy prison sentence after all. Hopefully, this time, it won't involve killing four people.
What's your favorite novel defense theory? Let us know on LinkedIn.
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- Zimmerman Trial: Opening Statements Shouldn't Be Stand-Up Comedy (FindLaw's Strategist Blog)
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