Tonya Couch Back in the United States, While Ethan Stays in Mexico

Half of the Couch duo is back in the United States. Ethan's Couch's mom Tonya, having been denied the injunction against deportation granted her son by Mexican authorities, was flown to Los Angeles late Wednesday by Mexican immigration officials. The United States Marshals took her into custody at the airport and she remains in California, awaiting extradition. Despite reports early in the day that she could be back in Texas before 2016, Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said Thursday that it could be a few days before she is arraigned by a Los Angeles judge and returned.

Tonya Couch has been charged with hindering the apprehension of a fugitive, a third-degree felony punishable by 2-10 years in state prison. Her bail, payable only in-person in Tarrant County, has been set at $1 million. She is accused of helping Ethan Couch flee to Mexico following her son's having missed a probation appointment and being seen in a video that appeared to show him playing beer pong. That hindering charge is not ironclad, as Jim Schutze reported recently after speaking to some high-end defense attorneys. 

Ethan Couch — infamous for his defense team's assertion that he was suffering from "affluenza" when he killed four people while driving drunk — remains in Mexico, pending the resolution of his "writ of amparo" request to the Mexican government. Similar to a writ of habeas corpus in the United States, a writ of amparo makes sure that a detainee's civil rights are not violated. Wednesday, U.S. Marshals said getting Ethan Couch back to face the Tarrant County music could take as long as a couple of months. 

The longer it takes to get Ethan Couch back to Tarrant County, the murkier his legal situation gets. Couch was sentenced to 10 years probation for the deaths. He started his probation in juvenile court in 2013. The plan was always to transition Couch to the adult probation system when he got close to aging out of the juvenile system when he turned 19. With his trip to Mexico, getting that done has become more urgent.

Couch has a transfer hearing set for January 19. The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office says it is currently trying to find out if the hearing can go forward without Couch — spokeswoman Samantha Jordan says hearings in absentia are common in adult court, but require special review in juvenile court. Either way, Jordan says, he can't age out of the system while facing a pending transfer motion, so, at worst, the hearing can take place whenever Couch is returned to Texas. Of course, it should be noted again that Couch will not face any adult time for his little vacation. He could get as much as 120 days as a condition of his transfer to the adult system, but that's it.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young