A warrant for the arrest of Ethan Couch, 18, the Texas teenager who notoriously avoided a prison sentence for the deaths of four people in a drunken-driving incident after his defense team used “Affluenza” to explain his behavior, has been issued. The “directive to apprehend,” according to Couch’s attorneys and the Tarrant County Juvenile Services Department, was issued due to Couch’s failure to report to his probation officer and apparently having gone missing.
Speaking to ABC News, the county’s chief juvenile probation officer, Randy Turner, confirmed the warrant for Couch, who had originally been sentenced to probation. The District Attorney’s office in Tarrant said through spokesperson Samantha Jordan that they are “looking into the whereabouts” of both Couch and his mother, Tonya. In an email received by ABC News, Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn, the attorneys for Couch, said their client, who lives with his mother, has not checked in with his probation officer and that the officer had not been able to contact either Couch “for the last several days.”
On June 15, 2013, Couch was 16 years old and driving drunk after attending a party in Burleson, Texas, when he struck a group of people with his pick-up truck. The investigation found that he had more than three times the legal limit for alcohol in his system. According to police, the teen was speeding before he lost control of his truck and ran into a group of Good Samaritans who had stopped to help a driver who was stranded on the side of the road. The stranded motorist was killed along with three of the helpers. Two passengers who had been riding with the teen suffered serious injuries.
The trial drew nationwide attention when a member of Couch’s defense argued that the teen, now missing and with a warrant issued for his arrest, was not responsible for his actions because he suffered from “affluenza.” Although his lawyers did not use the term, his psychologist, Dr. G. Dick Miller, defined the affliction as a product of “profoundly dysfunctional” parents and an affluent upbringing, which resulted in irresponsible behavior and psychological problems. Miller introduced the term as a paid defense witness.
Couch pleaded guilty on Dec. 4, 2013, to two counts of intoxication assault and four counts of intoxication manslaughter. Although prosecutors requested that he serve a 20-year prison sentence, he was initially sentenced to 10 years of probation. He was then ordered to attend a rehab facility and remain away from the influence of his parents, whose failure to set limits for their son was seen as a direct cause of his “affluenza.”
As part of the terms of his probation, he was ordered to abstain from drinking alcohol, using drugs, or driving. If found in violation of those orders, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office said at the time that Couch could be given up to 10 years in jail. The sentence created controversy nationwide, with many feeling as though Couch was let off too easy due to what they believed was an invented affliction made possible by the wealth of Couch’s parents.
Before the arrest warrant was issued, Couch was already being investigated for a possible probation violation after a video of him next to a beer pong table was posted on Twitter. The poster of the video directly tagged the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office and said they could provide more proof that Couch had violated his probation. Speaking to ABC News, Jordan said the video, which lasts six seconds, was posted on Dec. 2, and appears to show Couch laughing and clapping while a man jumps on the table.
Although Couch was sentenced under the juvenile justice system, if he is found to have violated probation, the case would fall under the jurisdiction of the District Attorney’s office. A request was made by the office in November to have Couch’s case transferred to adult court. The request, which was submitted before the “affluenza”-afflicted teen went missing and the warrant for his arrest was issued, is still pending. If approved, Couch would face prison time instead of jail. Should the request be denied, Couch’s probation will end in April 2016 when he turns 19.
By Jennifer Pfalz
ABC News: Arrest Warrant Issued for Missing ‘Affluenza’ Teen Ethan Couch
New York Times: Teenager Who Used ‘Affluenza’ Defense in Fatal Crash Is Missing
CNN: Warrant out for Ethan Couch, the drunken-driving ‘affluenza’ teen
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