An attorney for a teenager who killed four people in the “affluenza” drunken-driving case may have been forced to go to Mexico with his mother after an apparent violation of his probation, a defense attorney said on Tuesday.
A hearing on whether to move Ethan Couch’s case to adult court lasted only a few minutes without a decision on Tuesday when a judge ruled his parents were not adequately notified about the hearing.
A new hearing date was set for Feb. 19.
Couch, 18, and his mother, Tonya Couch, 48, were captured in Puerto Vallarto, Mexico, last month after a manhunt of more than two weeks. She was returned to Texas and faces a third-degree felony charge for helping her son flee while Ethan remains in a Mexican immigration detention center fighting efforts to bring him back to the United States.
Lawyers for Couch want the proceedings in Fort Worth to come to a halt, arguing the case should not go forward because he is not present. They say he may have been abducted by his mother.
“We are examining the facts … to determine whether he was taken voluntarily or involuntarily to Mexico,” attorney Scott Brown told reporters.
Tarrant County prosecutors contended Couch is responsible for his own absence by fleeing to Mexico and fighting his deportation.
Couch was 16 in 2013 when he was tried as a juvenile with a psychiatrist testifying the boy had “affluenza” and his family’s wealth had left him so spoiled that it impaired his judgment to tell right from wrong.
The affluenza diagnosis, which is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, was widely ridiculed.
Couch and his mother ended up in Mexico in December after a social media video emerged showing him at an alcohol-laden party. The party was likely a violation of the probation deal that kept him out of prison after he was convicted of four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
If Couch is found to have violated his probation and his case is transferred to adult court, he could be held in adult detention for about four months. Another probation violation could bring up to 40 years in prison, legal sources said.
Tonya Couch faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of helping her son flee.
(Reporting by Marice Richter and Jon Herskovitz; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott and Alden Bentley)