Ethan Couch, the “affluenza” teen who killed four people in a drunk driving crash, is set to be released from prison in April. Couch and his mother sparked a debate on affluenza —a medically unproven condition— when his attorneys successfully argued it in his defense. He is now serving his sentence in Tarrant County Jail for violating his probation. Here’s an update on the “affluenza” teen, Ethan Couch.
How Did Ethan Couch become the “Affluenza” Teen?
On June 15, 2013, then 16-year-old Ethan Couch stole beer from a Walmart store. He was driving his father’s pickup truck, which he allegedly stole, with seven other passengers.
A drunk Couch was speeding down Burleson-Retta Road when he crashed into a group of people helping a stranded motorist, Breanna Mitchell
Mitchell, youth minister Brian Jennings, Hollie Boyles, and her daughter Shelby were killed in the crash. Couch’s teenage passengers survived, but one was left paralyzed. A total of 11 people were injured.
Couch’s blood alcohol content was found to be 0.24%, three times the legal limit for adult drivers in Texas. He also tested positive for Valium and marijuana.
Couch was charged for four counts of intoxication manslaughter. Prosecutors sought a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars.
However, his defense brought psychologist G. Dick Miller to the stand. Miller argued that Ethan Couch is a product of “affluenza.”
Affluenza is not a medically proven condition. Many would argue it’s an imaginary illness. The condition refers to an inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege.
Miller claimed that the Couch family’s wealth and a dysfunctional dynamic left young Ethan without a sense of responsibility. He argued that Couch should be rehabilitated, not imprisoned.
Ethan Couch’s Sentence
Couch was convicted and sentenced to 10 years probation with no jail time by Judge Jean Boyd. The same judge previously sentenced another young drunk driver to 20 years in prison.
There was public outcry over the leniency of the sentence. Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were killed, said, “The primary message has to absolutely be that money and privilege can’t buy justice in this country.”
The sentence sparked a huge debate in the public domain on whether Couch was not liable just because he was coddled by his parents.
It is, however, unknown if the Couch family’s wealth and privilege had anything to do with the sentence. Judge Boyd is also known to put youths in rehabilitation rather than prison.
Couch’s Fugitive Status and Jail Time
As per his probation terms, Couch was ordered to enter a rehab facility. However, the teen didn’t appear to mend his ways.
In 2015, a video surfaced on social media that showed him drinking and partying. The video of Couch playing beer pong was a violation of his probation.
After the video surfaced, Couch missed a scheduled meeting with his probation officer. When authorities couldn’t contact Ethan or his mother, an arrest warrant was issued.
A fugitive hunt began for Ethan and Tonya Couch, who they believed fled the country. A $5,000 reward was announced for their capture.
Investigators later traced the mother and son to Mexico. After a two-week manhunt, Ethan and his mother were apprehended in Puerto Vallarta.
The duo were escorted back to Tarrant County, Texas despite Couch’s attempts to not get deported.
Tonya Couch was charged with hindering apprehension of a fugitive. She was released after posting a bond, but has to wear a GPS ankle monitor.
For fleeing the country and violating his probation, Ethan was sentenced to 720 days in jail —180 days for each of the four victims he killed. In other words, he had to serve two years in prison.
Couch’s attorneys continue to argue for his release. They claimed that the judge who ordered his release did not have authority to preside over his case. The attorney’s attempts have however, failed.
Ethan Couch’s Release Date
Ethan Couch was born on April 11, 1997 in Texas to Tonya and Fred Couch. Throughout his teens, he had run-ins with the law because of his drinking.
His family was wealthy thanks to his father’s sheet metal manufacturing business. The parents allowed their son to drink, and drive to school when he was 13. When school authorities questioned that, Fred Couch “threatened to buy the school.”
Fred Couch narrowly avoided jail time for impersonating a police officer. He was sentenced to 100 days of community service.
Tonya Couch, 50, was charged with money laundering over the previous charges of helping her son flee the country. She was released after paying a bond.
But Tonya was arrested again for violating her bond, and is now held in Tarrant County Jail, the same place her son is serving his sentence. But not for long.
Ethan Couch is scheduled to be released from jail on April 2 after serving his sentence. Upon release, Couch, who turns 21 soon, will serve several years of probation.
According to the terms of his probation, he has to wear an ankle monitor. Couch can’t drive a vehicle without a camera-equipped ignition interlock device. Additionally, he has to submit daily drug and alcohol tests.