The Affluenza Defense

Last spring, I came across the article "Affluenza"-- The new "Twinkie," written by Joel Cohen. While it was written in 2013, I believe the content is still incredibly relevant when looking at how some in our legal system approach their views of justice. As an individual we all hope to obtain a defense lawyer who is willing to do everything in his power to win, however, on the other hand, where do our social and individual ethics play their role? I look forward to your thoughts!

In his article “Affluenza – The New Twinkie,” Joel Cohen compares the 1979 defense of Dan White, and his lawyers claim that depression, primarily supported by his change in diet (later coined the Twinkie Defense), led him to assassinate two colleagues; to the juvenile case of Ethan Couch who killed four people while driving with three times the legal limit of alcohol in his system.

Ethan’s defense claimed that due to his affluent upbringing and his parent’s avoidance of setting boundaries, that he himself was a victim. His defense sought a treatment program rather than the maximum of twenty years in jail that the prosecution was seeking. Ultimately Judge Jean Boyd agreed, and Ethan did not spend a single day in jail. This defense has since been referred to as “Affluenza.”

Although not said directly, I gathered that;

“Affluenza” is the epidemic that leads one to believe that due to affluent circumstances and growing up without boundaries or punishment, they are excluded from understanding right from wrong and acting accordingly.

At the same time, I believe that parenting plays a significant role in how children behave and perceive the world. I also think it falls to each individual to understand our society's rights and wrongs and know their actions' potential implications. My own brother struggled in his decision making from a very young age. Although I do see where putting additional boundaries in place may have helped to curb his behavior, at the end of the day, I see each decision made as his own, and he had to live with the resulting consequences.

When it comes to the topic of Ethan Couch avoiding jail time because of “Affluenza,” most of us would agree that this is a ridiculous defense that should not have persuaded Judge Jean Boyd.

Where this agreement may end, however, is on the question of is this defense ethical?

While I concede that the defense lawyer's creativity and determination is quite spectacular, and should I ever need a lawyer myself, would one who was willing to pull out all the stops, I believe that it is entirely unethical that the courts would allow such a verdict to pass.

Firstly, because this sets the stage to play the “blame game” and allows individuals to disregard any adverse outcomes that may result from their actions. The author Joel Cohen makes a stunning point when he states that, “If Ethan Couch can argue that he is the victim of bad parenting, why can’t the murderer who was abused by his parents avoid jail time or even conviction?” Where do we draw the line in allowing defenses such as these to allow criminals to get away with murder, literally?

Secondly, I feel that this type of action is a direct slap in the face of the victims of such crimes or the families who have lost a loved one because of someone else’s reckless behavior. Allowing these types of rulings feeds directly into the “me first” mentality that so often plagues our culture. I feel that we should be using cases such as these to make a stand and put the people affected first rather than accepting excuses for poor judgment. In the end, will Ethan learn from his mistakes, or will we find him once again in the headlines a few years down the road?


Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I have found that I genuinely am questioning everything. The beliefs I grew up with, my viewpoint on right and wrong, and my dedication to becoming better for myself. I find myself with views that I want to share, learning information I hope everyone can enjoy, and I wanted a place to share everything I am learning. I am a thirty-year-old college student working towards a Ph.D. in Marine Biology, a master diver, a skincare junkie, a mostly vegan, and a trying minimalist, to name just a few bits of crazy to make me, me.

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