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TARRANT COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) – The North Texas teenager whose lawyer used an “affluenza” defense to lessen his responsibility in a fatal drunken-driving crash turned 19-years-old this week and appeared back in court this morning.
Ethan Couch made his first appearance in adult court. During the hearing, before District Judge Wayne Salvant, Couch learned that he will remain behind bars for the next 720 days — nearly two years.
Judge Salvant explained that the Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department needed to do additional assessments and that Couch’s lawyers had also asked for additional time to give him recommendations on “certain issues.”
“I’m going to decide, after I give them additional time, whether or not I want you to spend additional time in the custody of the Sheriff’s Department and the County Jail. But until we make that decision you will remain in the county jail at this time. I want you to understand that, you’re not getting out of jail today,” Judge Salvant told Couch.
The court hearing was scheduled as part of the conditions of Couch’s adult probation. Couch’s case was transferred from juvenile court to the adult legal system on April 11 — on his 19th birthday.
Judge Salvant told Couch, “The purpose of our session this morning is to give you certain conditions of community supervision that I want you to follow while you are in and under the jurisdiction of this court.” He then went on to tell the teen some of the things he was forbidden to do, including; abstaining from marijuana an alcohol, avoiding places of disreputable or harmful character, and once released meeting with a probation officer, getting a job and performing community service.
After the judge made Couch’s probation terms clear, attorneys and prosecutors then extensively debated about keeping certain documents sealed from the public. The judge ruled that lawyers should simply bring the matter to him if they feel there is any information that should be placed in the public domain.
Then the most important topic of the morning was presented — whether or not Couch is an adult defendant or a juvenile respondent and if he should spend any additional time behind bars. Prosecutors argued that Couch is now an adult, and said, “This myth or this favoritism that he’s still a kid or a juvenile is gone, it expired at 12 o’clock Monday. He’s now an adult and he needs to be treated like one.”
After listening to both sides, and then saying that he would give everyone two weeks additional time to convince him that he is wrong, Judge Salvant ruled, “As a condition of your probation the court is going to order that you submit to 180 days in the County Jail.” The judge went on to make the same ruling on all four of Couch’s intoxication manslaughter cases — with time to be served consecutively.
There was outrage in North Texas and around the world when Couch, who was 16-years-old at the time, killed four people while driving drunk and then escaping harsh punishment in juvenile court. He was sentenced to rehabilitation and 10 years probation.
The teen’s attorney argued that Couch was raised by wealthy parents and was never taught right from wrong — a condition a psychologist dubbed affluenza.
Couch was extradited back to North Texas on January 28. He had been in custody in Mexico. He and his mother, Tonya Couch, were captured in Puerto Vallarta after fleeing to Mexico when a video posted to Twitter allegedly showed him at a party playing beer pong. Consuming alcohol would have been a violation of his parole.
Initially, Couch was being held in juvenile detention, but within days he was transferred to the Tarrant County maximum-security prison. He’s been held there in solitary confinement — officials say for his protection.
If Couch were to violate probation now that he is in the adult system, he could face up to 10 years in prison each of the four people he killed.
Attorneys spent the better part of the morning in consultation with the judge behind closed doors. Couch’s hearing was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m., but the hearing didn’t get underway until nearly an hour-and-a-half later.
After sending Couch back to jail Judge Salvant told lawyers that they would reconvene in two weeks.
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