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Judge Moves 'Affluenza Teen' Case To Adult Court

Ethan Couch is led to a juvenile court for a hearing Friday in Fort Worth, Texas.
LM Otero
Ethan Couch is led to a juvenile court for a hearing Friday in Fort Worth, Texas.

A Texas judge has ordered that the case of 18-year-old Ethan Couch, who notoriously presented an "affluenza" defense in his drunken driving trial in 2013, be moved to an adult court.

Couch, who killed four people and seriously wounded two others while driving drunk when he was 16, will receive new probation terms. He could face up to 180 days in jail.

Here are more details from The Dallas Morning News:

"The ruling by District Judge Timothy A. Menikos calls for the case to be turned over to an adult court after Couch turns 19 on April 11. His probation will continue until February 2024."

"It will be up to a state district judge in adult court to determine what the terms of his probation will be, such as an ankle monitor or curfew. A judge can decide if he will spend a minimum of 120 days in jail, but the maximum that he could get is 180 days in jail, Couch's attorney Scott Brown said."

Couch had been serving a sentence of 10 years' probation for the deadly crash. And The Associated Press reports that now, "if he violates his probation during that time, he could get up to 10 years in prison for each of the four people killed in the accident."

The Dallas Morning News adds that Couch's lawyer did not contest Friday's ruling, saying "he felt that his client has been treated fairly up to this point."

You may remember that Couch and his mother, Tonya Couch, were apprehended in December in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, after having fled across the border.

In 2013, a juvenile court convicted Couch of intoxication manslaughter and gave him 10 years' probation. At sentencing, the defense infamously argued that Couch's wealthy parents had never held him accountable for his actions — a condition they dubbed "affluenza."

Couch fled the U.S. shortly after a video surfaced online purportedly showing him at a party where people were drinking alcoholic beverages. Consuming alcohol would break the terms of his probation.

He then failed to appear at a mandatory appointment with his probation officer on Dec. 10, triggering an international manhunt. He and his mother were eventually taken into custody later that month in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta.

His mother was "charged with hindering apprehension of a criminal, a felony that carries two to 10 years in prison," the Dallas Morning News reported. "She posted bond but remains under house arrest at the home of another son in Fort Worth."

One of the two people injured in the deadly 2013 crash was Sergio Molina, who was "thrown from the bed of Couch's truck," ABC reported. "Molina suffered a serious brain injury and can no longer speak or move."

Molina appeared before reporters Friday in a wheelchair, wrapped in a blanket. His brother Alex Lemus addressed the journalists.

"The reason we're doing this is that you can see that we need help. They got so much money — they can't pay for nothing?" he says. "They need to pay. They need to fund something. We need the help."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.