Ethan Couch Transferred to Adult Court

Ethan Couch in 2013/Ethan Couch in late 2015, just after being captured by Mexican authorities.
Ethan Couch in 2013/Ethan Couch in late 2015, just after being captured by Mexican authorities.
Tarrant County Sheriff/Jalisco Prosecutors Office

Ethan Couch, the affluenza-afflicted drunk driving teen who killed four people in a 2013 Tarrant County crash, is finally getting his day in adult court. Couch's juvenile probation would've expired in April, on his 19th birthday. Friday morning — in front of his father, Fred Couch, and the families of several of his victims — Couch's case was transferred from the juvenile probation to the adult probation system. Now, he faces stiffer consequences for any potential probation violations and the chance that he'll spend up to four months in jail as a condition of entering the adult system.

At his trial in 2013, Couch's defense team presented evidence that, due to the lack of discipline and consequences imposed on Couch by his wealthy parents and other authority figures in his life, the then 16-year-old could not effectively anticipate the harm to himself or others that his actions — like driving a pickup truck full of teenagers while wildly drunk — might cause. A defense expert even had a word for it — "affluenza." That term, and the fact that Judge Jean Boyd only sentenced Couch to 10 years of probation, outraged the country, and made Couch and his family a national story.

People cared about what Ethan Couch did, they expected him to fail to fulfill the conditions of his probation, so it was no surprise when a video surfaced on Twitter in early December showing Couch playing beer pong. Even being around alcohol constitutes a violation of his probation. Couch, apparently aware of the video, did not want to face his probation officer.

With the help of his mother, Tonya, Ethan Couch fled to Mexico sometime in December. The Couches were found — thanks to a Domino's Pizza order made from a cell phone — in Puerto Vallarta later that month. Tonya Couch was extradited to the United States on New Year's Eve. Ethan Couch fought the process a little longer, and ended up back in Tarrant County on January 28.

Because Couch's trip to Mexico, and the beer pong game, occurred while he was still in the juvenile probation system, sanctions for those violations can only extend until his 19th birthday. For his flight, the most time in adult jail he can receive is four months, the maximum penalty a judge can assess for transferring someone from juvenile to adult probation. Now that Couch is part of the adult system, however, any additional violations could see him serving the rest of his 10-year probated sentence in adult prison.

Per the judge's orders Friday, Couch will remain in custody — because he's 18, he's been held in protective custody in adult jail, awaiting transfer to the adult system — until his next hearing, which will be held before his birthday on April 11.


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