"Affluenza" teen Ethan Couch faces up to 120 days in jail if a judge rules he violated his probation, but his case is full of legal question marks, including whether he should be considered a juvenile or an adult.
Authorities believe Couch, 18, and his mother fled Texas after an online video appeared to show Couch at a party where people were drinking. Couch had been sentenced to 10 years' probation in juvenile court for the 2013 drunken-driving crash, and the terms prohibit him from drinking or leaving Tarrant County, Texas.
Couch and his mother were apprehended in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta on Dec. 28, after a call for delivery pizza tipped off authorities to their whereabouts.
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The teen has been detained at the Tarrant County Juvenile Detention Center in North Fort Worth since returning to the U.S.
At a hearing Friday morning, a juvenile court judge ruled that Couch would remain held in a juvenile facility for now, although he could later be transferred to the adult Tarrant County jail.
His attorneys released the following statement Thursday afternoon:
"As we previously indicated would happen, Ethan voluntarily returned to the United States today. As required by the Texas Family Code, the 323rd District Court will conduct a brief detention hearing tomorrow concerning Ethan’s status pending further proceedings in this case. We expect the Judge to order Ethan to remain in the Tarrant County Juvenile Detention Facility at this time.
Now that Ethan is back in Tarrant County and will be personally present in court at the upcoming hearing on the State’s Motion to Transfer, we anticipate that the Court will lawfully transfer his probation to an appropriate Tarrant County District Court with adult criminal jurisdiction. Under the law, the transfer will become effective upon Ethan’s nineteenth birthday in April. We are optimistic that, going forward, Ethan will comply with all court-imposed terms and conditions and that he will successfully complete his term of probation."
— Scott Brown and Wm. Reagan Wynn Counsel for Ethan Couch
Another hearing is set for Feb. 19, when a judge will hear arguments about whether Couch should be certified as an adult. That is separate from the question of whether he should be kept in an adult jail for now.
The penalty for allegedly violating his probation, by running to Mexico, is 120 days in jail.
The question then is, if a judge does sentence him to the full 120 days, when does that sentence begin? Does the time he's been locked up in Mexico for several weeks count toward that sentence?
Prosecutors said they will argue the clock should start on his 19th birthday, which is April 11. His defense attorneys will no doubt argue the 120 days should have started when he was captured in Mexico last month.
If prosecutors get everything they want, Couch would get out of jail in August.
Before he is released, prosecutors said they will ask for strict new conditions of probation in the adult system. That means that when Couch gets out, if he violates probation again as an adult, prosecutors could sentence him to at least 10 years in prison.
Couch's mother, Tonya, faces two to 10 years in jail if she is found guilty of hindering apprehension of a felon, by running with her son to Mexico.