Judge: 'Affluenza' Teen Can Stay in Juvie

Prosecutors wanted Couch in 'big-boy jail'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 30, 2016 7:09 AM CST
Judge: 'Affluenza' Teen Can Stay in Juvie
A hooded Ethan Couch is processed by Mexican immigration agents.   (Instituto Nacional de Migracion, INM via AP)

The Texas teenager who used an "affluenza" defense in a fatal drunken-driving wreck won't be moved to an adult jail as he awaits a hearing to determine whether his case will be transferred to adult court, where he could face time behind bars, 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 US last month as Texas prosecutors investigated whether he violated his probation in the 2013 wreck that killed four people. Prosecutors and the local sheriff wanted Couch moved to an adult jail. But during a brief hearing, Judge Timothy Menikos sided with Couch's attorneys and said the teen would stay at the juvenile center until a Feb. 19 hearing.

Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said her office would do everything it could to hold Couch accountable, but noted she was limited because Couch was sentenced only to 10 years' probation in 2013. She urged the public not to focus on Couch or "feed his ego with notoriety." "Behind every incident are the victims, and this should be their story," she said in a statement Friday. The Feb. 19 hearing opens up a number of possibilities for Couch:

  • If Couch's case is moved to adult court, the judge could order him to spend up to 120 days in jail as part of an adult sentence, and then finish the remainder of his 10-year probation.
  • If he violates his probation during that time, he could get up to 10 years in prison for each of the four people killed in the drunken-driving wreck.
  • If his case remains in juvenile court, prosecutors could ask for a separate hearing to determine whether Couch violated his probation.
  • If a judge rules that he didn't violate his terms, he would go free directly after the hearing and remain on probation until his sentence expires on his 19th birthday in April.
  • If Couch is found to have violated probation, the judge could either sentence him to a state facility operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department or leave him on juvenile probation until he turns 19.
  • If Couch is sentenced to the state facility, a judge would hold another hearing before his birthday to determine whether to transfer him to adult prison for up to 10 years or to adult parole.
(Couch's parents have had at least 20 run-ins with the law themselves.)

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