FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Lawyers for Ethan Couch have filed a new motion arguing that the ‘affluenza’ teenager should be released from jail, because the judge should not have had jurisdiction over the case.
State law technically considers juvenile cases like Couch to be civil proceedings. Judge Wayne Salvant, on the other hand, is a Tarrant County criminal court judge.
Because of this discrepancy, the newly-filed motion contends, any of Salvant’s rulings should be thrown out. That includes his decision that Couch must serve time behind bars. The details of the motion were confirmed Wednesday morning by a member of Couch’s legal team.
Couch was 16 years old when he was responsible for a fatal drunk driving crash near Fort Worth. The teen was intoxicated and speeding in 2013 when he slammed into a disabled SUV. Four people died and others were injured. But, amid a public uproar, the teen was only sentenced to rehabilitation and 10 years probation.
Defense lawyers for Couch successfully argued that he was coddled by wealthy parents and lacked a sense of responsibility for his actions. An expert coined the term ‘affluenza’ for this unofficial condition. The case and ruling were widely ridiculed by the community.
Video then surfaced online that appeared to show Couch in violation of his probation, playing beer pong at a party. While that footage was being investigated, law enforcement officials said that Couch and his mother fled to Mexico. After a manhunt, the two were located in Puerto Vallarta. The teen’s hair had been dyed jet black, as opposed to his normal blonde look.
Couch and mother Tonya were both brought back to the United States. She was charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon, fitted with a GPS monitor and placed on house arrest. Tonya Couch has since been released from house arrest, and now has a job at a local biker bar while her son remains jailed.
Back in May, after being ordered to remain behind bars for nearly two years, Couch was transferred from a maximum security facility to a “less restrictive” location. But he reportedly still spends much of his time in solitary confinement, said to be for his own protection. Couch has already served four months of his sentence.
Prosecutors will not be able to issue a comment on this latest attempt to free Couch, because the judge has issued a gag order on everyone involved in the case.
Fort Worth lawyer Trent Loftin has been following this case from the beginning and said this latest chapter in the Ethan Couch saga proves it’s unlike anything he has seen before.
“In the 20 some odd years I have been doing this I have never seen a case like this,” said Loftin.
As to the motion that was filed, he believes Couch being released is nothing more than a “Hail Mary” attempt to get him freed.
“I think it’s a shot in the dark or a long shot to get the whole thing thrown out,” said Loftin.
Loftin did say the second argument though does hold some water.
He says Couch’s lawyers do have a better argument in having him tried on one count or “cause” as opposed to 4 separate ones.
He says that’s important when you consider final sentencing guidelines.
“He could be facing stacked up to 80 years rather than just one twenty year sentence,” said Loftin.
Loftin said the ultimate decision will be made by an appeals court.