Fernando Benítez, the Tijuana-based attorney dubbed a “rock star” for a stellar track record in winning high-profile cases, confirmed for U.S. media Friday his representation of “affluenza” teen Ethan Couch. He insists his client’s constitutional and civil rights may have been violated.
Earlier this week, Couch, 18, got his deportation to the U.S. delayed after Benítez, a practicing attorney in Mexico, filed a constitutional appeal. The Mexican legal process could last weeks or months. Breitbart Texas reported that the “affluenza” teen’s blocked deportation allows a judge three days to determine whether Couch has grounds to challenge extradition based on arguments that kicking him out of the country would violate his rights.
Benítez told WFAA 8 (ABC) he filed a petition claiming Couch’s constitutional and civil rights may have been violated, highlighting that the teen’s U.S. crimes should have no bearing on Mexican officials or Mexican courts. He said that the U.S. State Department filed no formal extradition request for Couch, noting: “They want to get him for not having the proper migratory papers and have this executive decision.”
He commented that an evidence hearing for Ethan Couch may not happen for several weeks while both sides file court documents and, after the hearing, a judge has 90 days to issue a ruling after which he can file an appeal. In the meantime, the teen remains in a Mexico City detention center. “We’re going to take this to the full extent of our capability and have whoever needs to review it,” Benítez stated.
The Mexican legal eagle also said that Couch has not committed a crime in Mexico. “Why would Mexico go along with this idea of locating someone and summarily kicking them out of the country so the marshals can grab him across the border? I don’t think that’s okay.”
Over Twitter, he expressed to Dallas NBC affiliate KXAS 5 that his interest in Couch’s case is its lawful handling.
@ScottGordonNBC5 Mi interés es que, si se busca su repatriación a los EE.UU., se proceda con arreglo a la Constitución y la Ley, únicamente
— Fernando Benítez (@RF_Benitez) January 1, 2016
Benítez plans to meet with the teen early next week.
Couch and his mother Tonya were arrested Monday in Puerta Vallarta. Ethan Couch is the Texas teen granted leniency by a North Texas juvenile court for a 2013 drunk driving wreck in which he pleaded guilty to killing four people while intoxicated, injuring nine others. Instead of jail time, he serves a 10 year probation sentence that included rehab and counseling. His defense attorneys claimed the teen, then 16, suffered from “affluenza” to explain reckless behavior as the result of his privileged upbringing.
Tarrant County authorities believe mother and son fled to Mexico as prosecutors investigated whether Ethan violated his probation once a social media video surfaced showing someone who looked like the teen at a party allegedly serving alcoholic beverages. Breitbart Texas reported that among violations of his probation were drinking, driving or doing drugs. The international manhunt for the “affluenza” teen began after he missed an appointment with his probation officer.
Late Tuesday, Mexican officials deported Tonya Couch. Presently, she is held on $1 million bail in a downtown Los Angeles federal prison. Tarrant County officials charged her with allegedly hindering the apprehension of her fugitive son, although her attorneys say she did not violate any Texas laws.
News outlets reported Puerta Vallarta hotel employees claimed they found a handgun in the room where the teen stayed with his mother, alleging the firearm belonged to Ethan Couch. However, Benítez called the hotel employee’s story suspect, insisting his client did not have a firearm when taken into custody.
Benítez is known to Americans for successfully getting U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi released from a Mexican jail. The military veteran spent a reported 214 days behind bars in 2014 after making a wrong turn which led to accidentally driving into Mexico with three loaded weapons in his vehicle. Benitez also successfully defended former Tijuana mayor Jorge Hank Rhon on charges of illegal weapons possession in 2011, according to several news sources. The attorney did not say who was paying him to represent the “affluenza” teen.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.