The Affluenza Defense

Posted by Perry de Marco, Sr. on 12 February 2014

Trial lawyers are often heard to say, “our profession is not a science but an art”.  It is the art of persuading either a Judge or a jury as to the merits of the client’s position. A great legal argument is indeed a work of art. As a Philadelphia Trial Lawyer for nearly 40 years, I greatly enjoy hearing a good legal argument even if it is being made by my opponent in a case.  Art is Art. A true afficionado appreciates it no matter who the artist is. This then brings us to the “Affluenza” Defense. No it is not a disease.  What is this you ask? Well honestly I just read about it myself. This so called defense is reserved to children of the rich and possibly famous and holds that kids who have been pampered, lavished upon, and enabled in bad behavior all their young lives are not totally responsible for their crimes. In other words, since they have always been allowed to get or do whatever they want, they just don’t know any better when that which they do is criminal. In essence, it could be called the spoiled brat defense. No this is not a joke. This past December, a sixteen year old Texas youth was sentenced to 10 years probation after being adjudicated for killing four people and seriously injuring two others. It is alleged that the teen and his friends were captured on video surveilance stealing cases of beer from a store. He and his seven passengers then sped away in his Ford F-350 ultimately crashing into the victims.  His blood alcohol level was reported to be three times the legal limit. At the Juvenile hearing his lawyer presented the testimony of a psychologist who promoted the Affluenza defense blaming the young man’s actions on the lifestyle and parenting inadequacies of his wealthy parents. Apparently it worked since instead of imposing a 20 year sentence, the judge imposed a sentence of 10 years probation with treatment, not in the Texas Juvenile system, but in a New Port Beach California facility with a price tag of $450,000.0 per year. Of course his parents are going to flit the bill. Now strictly from the perspective of a defense lawyer, I must applaud my colleague in Texas because he truly did one hell of a job. The problem that I have is that I can’t conceive of such a defense ever being raised in my city of Philadelphia without being laughed out of court. Can you imagine a jury with one or several Flyers fans on it.  If I attempted to promote such a defense me and my client would end up in the hospital! And what does this say for the thousands of kids who come from underprivileged and horrible family circumstances.  The kids who make up the greatest percentage of our defendants?  They certainly cannot defend on basis that their lack of parenting, poverty and the pervasive criminal influences in their lives caused them to commit their crimes. They get to go to jail while the rich kids go to a country club.  I don’t think that this is art. I have never tried to promote a defense that would make my client or me look foolish.  The Affluenza defense is just plain foolish.