It’s the job of a criminal defense attorney to work zealously and creatively on behalf of a client. A good defense lawyer will look at every possible angle in a case to find that unique argument or critical piece of evidence that will ensure the best outcome for the client.

Perhaps one of the most interesting arguments made in a criminal case recently comes out of Texas, where a 16-year-old boy was sentenced to probation and alcohol rehab after pleading guilty to killing four people with his pickup truck while intoxicated.

The defense that netted him the jail-free sentence? “Affluenza.” His defense team, led by attorney Scott Brown, argued that his teen client Ethan Couch had been raised in an environment of wealth and privilege in which he never learned the difference between right and wrong because he suffered no consequences for behaving badly.

In June, Couch lost control of his pickup while driving with a blood-alcohol level three times the Texas legal limit. He hit a woman whose car had broken down and three people who had stopped to help her.

Prosecutors asked for a 20-year prison sentence for the juvenile, but Judge Jean Boyd agreed to sentence him to 10 years of probation and long-term treatment at an inpatient facility in Newport Beach, Calif. Couch’s parents will pay the more than $450,000 annual cost of his treatment.

The defense was successful in part because of the testimony of psychologist G. Dick Miller, who told the court that Couch’s parents were partly to blame for the fatal crash because of how they raised their son.

The term “affluenza” has become popularized through books dissecting America’s culture of consumption, but this is the first time anyone has used the term to defend a criminal charge in court.

Legal experts disagree whether the “affluenza” defense will ever be successful again. It’s not a recognized psychological diagnosis, and there’s been vocal nationwide backlash against Boyd’s decision.

Regardless of any opinions whether it was an appropriate outcome, the successful use of the “affluenza” defense demonstrates the power an argument can have when backed by a credible expert witness — and that’s what criminal defense attorneys are in the business to do.

If you’re facing criminal charges, call Philadelphia Criminal Attorney Michael Fienman at (215) 839-9529 to talk about your options.

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