“Affluenza” teen Ethan Couch’s motion to replace the judge presiding over his case was denied.
Administrative Judge David Evans denied Couch’s motion to remove state District Judge Wayne Salvant from the case in a court filing, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. Since August, Couch’s legal team, Reagan Wynn and Scott Brown, attempted to get Couch out of jail and recuse Salvant from the case. Had they succeeded in removing the judge, it could have lead to Couch’s release from jail.
On Tuesday, the counselors argued their case before Evans, saying Couch was wrongfully jailed by Salvant, who ordered the teen to 720 days in jail as a new condition of the 10 year probation he already serves for a 2013 drunk driving wreck he caused. Four people died. Others were seriously injured.
Wynn and Brown asserted that Salvant had no authority over Couch because the case, which originated in the juvenile court system, should have transferred to a civil court when the teen turned of legal age, 19, and not to a criminal court. They argued Salvant, a criminal court judge, prosecuted adult felony cases and, because of that, his decisions were invalid. The attorneys said their client should be released from jail.
Couch’s case transferred automatically from the juvenile to the adult court system on his 19th birthday in April. According to the Fort Worth paper, Salvant was randomly assigned to the case.
Wynn and Brown claimed Couch could potentially sue Salvant for wrongfully jailing him. Breitbart Texas reported the recusal motion stated any determination the court acted out of its jurisdiction could result in a civil claim by the teen. It contended the judge would have a financial interest in the outcome of such litigation, leaving the court’s impartiality and personal bias to be questioned.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Tarrant County prosecutor Richard Alpert countered their argument by pointing out Couch’s case ceased to be considered a civil one when it transferred from juvenile to felony court. Alpert called the defense’s argument a “novel theory.” He said: “Their argument is based on a hypothetical argument that they may sue the judge. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Two days later, Evans denied the motion to remove Salvant from the case. Couch will remain in jail, serving the 720 day sentence Salvant ordered in April. The time reflects 180 day terms for each of the four individuals Couch killed in the drunk driving crash. He is scheduled for release in 2018.
Couch was 16-years-old at the time of the accident. Wynn and Brown defended him in the high-profile trial, attributing the minor’s reckless behavior to “affluenza,” an inability to distinguish right from wrong because of a coddled, affluent upbringing. The prosecution sought 20 years in prison but a lenient juvenile judge doled out the 10 year probation sentence. This also included some rehab and counseling.
Late last year, authorities believed Couch violated the terms of his probation and alleged his mother, Tonya Couch, helped him flee the country. The two vanished, resulting in an international search. Authorities quickly found the pair in Mexico. They were deported back to Texas.
Salvant also presides over the case of Couch’s mother. She awaits trial on felony charges of money laundering and hindering the apprehension of a felon, her son Ethan. Weeks before the two disappeared, she purportedly withdrew $30,000 from a personal bank account. Breitbart Texas reported her attorneys recently revealed she is indigent. They petitioned for court-appointed status so they may continue serving as the elder Couch’s legal defense. If this motion is granted, the taxpayers will foot her legal expenses. Salvant set a tentative February 2017 trial date.
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