‘Affluenza' Teen Remains Detained, Not Moved to Adult Jail

The Texas teen whose lawyers used an "affluenza" defense in a deadly 2013 drunken driving crash will remain in a juvenile detention center as he waits to find out if his case will be transferred to adult court, a judge ruled Friday.

Ethan Couch, 18, was booked into a juvenile detention facility in Fort Worth after he was deported from Mexico on Thursday. Authorities believe he and his mother fled the country as Texas prosecutors investigated whether he may have violated his probation in the crash.

Judge Timothy Menikos sided with Couch's attorneys during a court hearing Friday in Fort Worth, saying Couch could stay at the juvenile center. Prosecutors wanted Couch moved to an adult jail ahead of a hearing next month that will determine whether the case is transferred to the adult system, where Couch could face time behind bars.

Couch was 16 at the time of the fatal crash, so the case is being handled for now in juvenile court.

Scott Brown, an attorney representing Ethan Couch, said after a detention hearing Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, that he expects his client to be transferred to adult jurisdiction.
Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert talks about the future of Ethan Couch after a detention hearing, Jan. 29, 2016.
Colleen Sheehey-Church, MADD National President, speaks after Ethan Couch’s detainment hearing, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016.

If Couch's case is moved to adult court, the judge could order Couch to spend up to 120 days in jail for violating his probation before finishing the remainder of his 10-year probation sentence, according to Tarrant County District Attorney spokeswoman Samantha Jordan.

If he were to violate his probation again, Couch could get up to 10 years in prison for each of the four people killed in the drunken-driving wreck, should a judge choose to stack his sentences and not have them served concurrently.

But if the case remains in juvenile court, Couch could be held in a juvenile detention center until he turns 19 in April, at which point he would become eligible for parole.

Couch's attorneys said following the detention hearing Friday they expect Menikos to transfer Couch to adult jurisdiction and will not fight the transfer as there are no legal grounds to appeal.

The defense said they expected the move to adult jurisdiction to happen when Couch was originally placed on probation in juvenile court and are optimistic he can successfully complete his probation under adult jurisdiction.

The transfer hearing is scheduled for Feb. 19.

Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said Thursday he wanted Couch moved to an adult jail, given his age and the severity of his offenses.

"He's certainly capable of understanding now what's going on, and I'd feel better if he was there," Anderson said.

During the sentencing phase of the 2013 trial, a defense witness argued Couch had been coddled into a sense of irresponsibility by his wealthy parents. The expert deemed the condition "affluenza," which isn't recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association and drew widespread derision.

The teen was later sentenced to 10 years' probation, which including barring him from drinking or leaving Tarrant County. Prosecutors and law enforcement officers blasted the sentence as too weak.

In December, Couch and his mother disappeared after an online video appeared to show Couch at a party where people were drinking. They were apprehended in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta on Dec. 28, after a call for pizza delivery tipped off authorities to their whereabouts.

Couch initially fought deportation, but he dropped the fight this week. His mother, Tonya Couch, was deported last month and is charged in Texas with hindering the apprehension of a felon. She was released on bond this month after being fitted with an electronic ankle GPS monitor.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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