‘Affluenza’ Teen Almost Got Away With It

Photo: Mexico's Jalisco state prosecutorís office via AP

Tarrant County officials, the families of the victims, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) expressed concern, even outrage, that “affluenza” teen Ethan Couch, who has fought his extradition to the U.S., might beat the system and remain in Mexico but, as it looks now, he only almost got away with it.

In fact, Couch, 18, may be back in Fort Worth as soon as “within the next few weeks,” say his Texas attorneys Scott Brown and William Reagan Wynn. Although the exact date when he returns to Texas is unknown, the counselors insist it will be before his 19th birthday on April 11.

On Wed., Jan. 20, they released a statement indicating, as they understood it, Couch’s attorney in Mexico filed paperwork to end the teen’s extradition fight. Couch remains in the custody of Mexican authorities. Brown and Wynn wrote:

“It is our understanding that paperwork has been filed by Ethan’s counsel in Mexico that will terminate the ongoing Mexican immigration proceedings. We believe that this will result in Ethan’s return to the United States within the next few weeks.”  

Breitbart Texas reported Couch’s Jan. 19 probation transfer hearing was postponed to Feb. 19 by Tarrant County Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Menikos after Couch’s attorneys argued that neither of the teen’s parents were formally notified of the hearing. Since no record of formal notification existed, Menikos called a recess to properly inform his parents. The upcoming court date will determine whether to transfer Couch’s case from juvenile to the adult court. Brown and Wynn expect Couch to attend:

“We anticipate that Ethan will be present in the 323rd Judicial District Court at the upcoming hearing on the State’s Motion to Transfer.  We further anticipate that, with Ethan personally present for the proceedings, the Court will lawfully transfer Ethan’s probation to an appropriate Tarrant County District Court.  As expressly provided for by section 54.051(d) of the Texas Family Code, that transfer will take effect upon Ethan’s nineteenth birthday.”

His lawyers also anticipated the probation “would be transferred” once Couch turned 19-years-0ld. They wrote:

“Since Ethan was originally placed on determinate sentence probation in December 2013, all knowledgeable involved parties have anticipated that his probation would be transferred to an appropriate District Court upon his nineteenth birthday in accordance with section 54.051 of the Texas Family Code. As expected, in November 2015, the State filed a Motion seeking transfer of Ethan’s determinate sentence probation.  As was stated yesterday in open court, the hearing on the State’s Motion to Transfer to an appropriate District Court has been reset.”

After Tuesday’s postponement, Brown told reporters Couch may have been taken to Mexico against his will. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Brown said that whether Couch “was voluntarily or involuntarily taken to Mexico is something that is still being investigated.” In response, spokeswoman for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office, Samantha Jordan, said “adequate proof” would be necessary to show Tonya Couch forced Ethan to go to Mexico. Jordan added, even if the teen was forced to go to Mexico, it will not affect the prosecution’s efforts transfer his case to the adult system, the Fort Worth newspaper noted.

Breitbart Texas reported that Tarrant County D.A. Sharen Wilson previously felt placing Couch in a juvenile facility until his 19th birthday was insufficient punishment but, as an adult, he could face up to 120 days in prison for alleged probation violations. In the adult system, he could receive up to 40 years in prison if he violated probation again. Couch would serve the remaining eight years on his 10 year probation sentence for killing four people and wounding others in a 2013 drunk-driving crash near Fort Worth. Wilson said the adult court would still be bound by the terms of the original juvenile court sentence, limiting further actions.

Brown and Wynn defended then 16-year-old Ethan Couch in the high-profile 2013 trial, claiming the teen was the victim of “affluenza,” an inability to distinguish right from wrong based on his affluent upbringing. Instead of jail time, a lenient judge sentenced Couch to the probation plus rehab and counseling. The prosecution sought 20 years in prison.

Until now, Couch fought extradition from a holding facility in Mexico City where he was taken after he and his mother, Tonya, 48, were arrested in Puerta Vallarta. Tarrant County authorities alleged Tonya helped Ethan flee the U.S. after a party video surfaced online purportedly serving alcohol and capturing someone who looked like the teen. Alcohol consumption was among his probation violations.

Tarrant County officials charged Tonya Couch with the third-degree felony of hindering an apprehension. If convicted, she faces 2-10 years in prison. Mexican authorities deported Tonya Couch. A Fort Worth judge lowered her $1 million bail to $75,000, on Jan. 11. Later, she bonded out of jail into the custody of her older son, Ethan’s half-brother, Steven McWilliams. She wears an electonic ankle monitor and can only leave home for doctor and attorney appointments.

That same day, MADD launched an online petition in support of transferring Ethan Couch’s case to adult court, Breitbart Texas reported.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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