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LSAT in Real Life: Finding Flaws in the Affluenza Defense

If you’ve been living under a rock (or studiously avoiding news articles on this story, as I had been unti I sat down to write this LSAT blog post), you might not have heard about the “affluenza” hoopla that hit the news last week.

Here’s the quick rundown of the story: A 16-year-old boy in Texas was driving with a BAC level three times the legal limit when he lost control of his truck and killed four nearby pedestrians. When he was on trial for manslaughter, the defense attorneys argued that he needed rehabilitation, not jail time, because his wealthy parents hadn’t taught him a sense of personal responsibility. A witness for the defense said the kid had “affluenza” – he’d been taught that money could solve any and all problems. So of course the best solution for that is to let him avoid jail while his parents foot the bill (to the tune of $450,000 per year) for a cushy rehab center. And thus, the stage was set for the outpouring of commentary that has been bouncing around the interwebs ever since.

Much has been written (by people much smarter than I) about how this is a BS decision. Personally, I’m a fan of the “povertenza” response post. But however flawed the judge’s logic may have been, we should be careful to avoid committing flaws of our own in response to this story.

For instance, there are some Doubting Debbies out there who seem to believe that because this kid has exhibited bad behavior in the past, he’s unlikely to change his tune in the future. Of course, we know that that’s a temporal fallacy – we can’t predict the future based on past behavior.

The tendency to commit ad hominem fallacies is also high in a case like this. News outlets have been working hard to dig up dirt on the kid in question, as well as on his parents – since the judge’s argument rests on the effect of the parents’ behavior, such details might actually be relevant to the argument, which would mean that they’re not necessarily an example of ad hominem. If, however, someone were to try to slam the judge by revealing information about him personally – that’s ad hominem because it’s attacking the person rather than the person’s argument.

Clearly we live in a world where flawed logic is both prominent and widely accepted. The good news is that you, as LSAT trainees, can avoid committing logical fallacies yourselves. And I don’t know about you, but I find that comforting.