Ethan Couch, the so-called affluenza teen, and his mother, Tonya Couch, have been captured in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta, where they had been hiding from Texas authorities in a shabby apartment. They will be deported to the United States.
In an update on Dec. 30, federal marshals announced that the teen and his mother are fighting extradition and have hired a Mexican attorney. It could be several more weeks before they are returned to the United States.
Ethan Couch was known as the affluenza teen because his defense attorney blamed his crime on his family’s wealth after he killed four people in a drunk driving accident when he was sixteen years old. This unusual defense was successful and the teen was never sent to jail. Instead, he was placed on juvenile probation. His attorney used a defense expert who asserted that Ethan’s wealthy parents had never disciplined him or taught him right from wrong … a condition that he referred to as “affluenza.” The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize any such condition. The jury’s acceptance of the defense was widely ridiculed.
It appeared that the Couch’s were attempting to disguise their identities when they were captured. His blond hair had been died black and his mother’s hair had been cut short.
According to a statement made by Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson in a press conference today, “They had planned to disappear. They even had something that was almost akin to a going-away party before leaving town.” Sheriff Anderson did not give any other details about the party.
Sheriff Anderson also said they believe the two fled to Mexico in late November because of a video that appeared on social media showing Couch at a party where people were drinking. If it had been proven that Couch was also drinking, his probation could have been revoked and he might have been sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison.
Sheriff Anderson also said that they do not yet know if the mother and son had any accomplices who helped them escape. They do not have any evidence that Couch’s father, who is divorced from the mother, knew about their plans.
Mrs. Couch is being charged with hindering an apprehension, which is a third degree felony. If convicted, she could receive a sentence of two to ten years in prison.
Ethan Couch’s case is currently being handled in juvenile court, since he was only 16 at the time of the accident. Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson has said that she would like to have Ethan Couch’s case transferred to adult court. If the case remains in juvenile court, the most he could serve is four months, until he turns 19. If the case is transferred to adult court, he could be sent to the adult jail for four months and then be placed on a 10-year probation. If he violated his parole, he could be sent to prison for up to 10 years for each death, for a total of 40 years.
In addition, if Couch is convicted of having committed any new crimes, it is possible he could be charged and convicted of those crimes in an adult court.
A hearing will be held in January to determine if the case will be transferred to adult court. If the judge denies that request, District Attorney Wilson said he could still be held in the juvenile facility until he turns 19 in April.
Couch’s attorneys, Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn, have declined to make a statement until they see their client, after he has been returned to the United States.
The affluenza teen caught in Mexico will be sent back to the U.S., along with his mother, on a commercial flight once their extradition has been approved by a Mexican court.
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