The Texas teen who used the now infamous “affluenza” defense after killing four people in a drunk driving accident will serve nearly two years in jail, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
The ruling came after an hour of arguments about whether a judge in an adult court had the ability to sentence Ethan Couch to serve time in jail for violating a probation imposed on him by a juvenile court in 2015.
Couch had previously pleaded guilty to killing four people in the 2013 accident. But after his defense team argued that he suffered from “affluenza” – which they said meant that he was unable to tell right from wrong after being raised by wealthy parents – he was sentenced to rehab and 10 years’ probation. The sentence drew much criticism from the victims’ families and local law enforcement officials.
Couch is currently accused of violating his probation – which prohibits him from drinking, using drugs and driving – after he fled to Mexico in December with his mother after a video appeared on social media showing Couch at a party with alcohol.
After the video surfaced, Couch’s probation officer was unable to get in touch with him and a warrant for his arrest was issued. Couch and his mother were arrested 11 days later in Mexico, after he used his phone to place an order for pizza. Couch has been in jail since his arrest.
Couch, who turned 19 on Monday, made his first appearance in adult court on Wednesday in Fort Worth. It is unclear if the time he has spent in jail awaiting the hearing will count towards his sentence.
Much of Wednesday’s hearing was focused on whether the judge should sentence Couch to 180 or 120 days in jail. Prosecutors argued that since there were four different victims in the 2013 accident, this should be treated as four different violations.
The defense disagreed, arguing that the case should be treated the way it was in juvenile court.
Four stacked sentences – each for 180 days in jail – is the most that judge Wayne Salvant could give. After he announced the sentence, Salvant told lawyers that they had two weeks to submit additional information that could be used to change his mind.
After serving out his sentence, Couch will also have to finish the 10-year probation. The terms remain the same: no drinking, no drugs, no driving. He must comply with any blood, urine and breathalyzer tests. Additionally, if Couch seeks to leave the nearby counties, he would first need to obtain a permission. If Couch violated his probation as an adult, he could be sent to prison for up to 40 years – 10 years for each person he killed in 2013.
Salvant also urged the lawyers in the case to not voice their opinions about how the case ought to be handled in the press. The reason, according to Salvant, is that Couch’s case is “intertwined” with his mother’s.
Tonya Couch faces charge of hindering the apprehension of a felon and faces between two and 10 years in prison if convicted. She is currently under house arrest.
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