"Affluenza" Teen Spared Jail Time in Deadly DUI Crash

No minimum time set for treatment

By Chris Van Horne and Scott Gordon
|  Wednesday, Feb 5, 2014  |  Updated 10:01 PM PDT
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A judge has ordered no jail time for Ethan Couch, the teenager at the wheel in a drunken-driving crash that killed four people. Judge Jean Boyd ordered Couch into a rehabilitation facility paid for by his parents.

Scott Gordon, NBC 5 News

A judge has ordered no jail time for Ethan Couch, the teenager at the wheel in a drunken-driving crash that killed four people. Judge Jean Boyd ordered Couch into a rehabilitation facility paid for by his parents.

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No Jail Time for "Affluenza" Teen

A judge has ordered no jail time for Ethan Couch, the teenager at the wheel in a drunken-driving crash that killed four people. Judge Jean Boyd ordered Couch into a rehabilitation facility paid for by his parents.
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The Tarrant County intoxication manslaughter case involving "affluenza" teen Ethan Couch touched off more controversy Wednesday, as the teen was spared further jail time but ordered to rehab.

The 16-year-old was back in court Wednesday after prosecutors requested jail time on charges related to two people who suffered injuries in the crash that killed four others last June.

On Wednesday afternoon, Couch's attorney said Judge Jean Boyd ordered his client to a rehabilitation facility that would be paid for by his parents, but didn't require a minimum amount of time to be spent there. The family previously offered to pay for a facility in California that cost around $450,000 per year. 

Others said the facility is in Texas but they declined to say where.

The judge also ordered no further jail time for the teen in connection with those who were injured, but survived, the crash.

She also set conditions of his probation, including that he not drive or use drugs or alcohol.

Family members of the victims were outraged he received no jail time.

"No matter where he goes, no matter what game he or his family think they've beaten, the world is never going to take their eyes off of him," said Marla Mitchell, whose daughter was killed in the crash.

Couch's defense had claimed the teenager was coddled and had no sense of responsibility because of poor parenting, and during his trial, an expert termed his condition "affluenza." His defense attorneys argued, successfully, that Couch needed treatment and not incarceration.

Wednesday's hearing on where Couch would get treatment was scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. A few minutes before the hearing was scheduled to start, several reporters, including NBC 5 DFW's Scott Gordon, were ordered by bailiffs to leave the courtroom.

The district attorney's office argued to let the public into the hearing and victims' family members said they wanted it open, but the judge rejected their appeals.

Couch has been in custody at juvenile detention since his Dec. 12 sentencing and remained locked up Wednesday night.

Couch's attorney Reagan Wynn ripped the media and the public's focus on "affluenza" and said that his client was misunderstood.

"It's ridiculous to think that we walked into court and said, 'Oh this is a rich white kid' and she decided to probate him," Wynn said.

But Alpert accused Wynn of hypocrisy, pointing out that a defense witness made the comment in the first place.

"His witnesses don't say things by accident," Alpert said. "So they thought maybe that would help -- that's my interpretation -- and it blew up on them. It was a stupid thing to say."

Couch's parents did not speak to reporters as they entered the courtroom. Several relatives of Couch's victims also attended Wednesday's hearing.

"The families feel like the same way they felt the last time they were here," Alpert said.

Asking Boyd to give Couch jail time for intoxication assault was a last-ditch effort by prosecutors, who have said they have almost no way to appeal the judge's sentence in the case.

Alpert said he hoped the Couch case would lead the Texas Legislature to allow juries to sentence some juvenile defendants. The case has already spurred calls for potential changes. Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who serves as president of the Senate, has asked for a study of sentencing guidelines in intoxication manslaughter cases.

Couch was 16 at the time of the accident. His blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit for an adult and there were traces of Valium in his system when he lost control of his pickup truck and plowed into a group of people helping a woman whose car had stalled.

 

Seven passengers were riding in Couch's truck. One, Sergio Molina, is paralyzed and can communicate only by blinking. The other, Solimon Mohmand, suffered numerous broken bones and internal injuries.

On Tuesday several news outlets, including NBC 5, argued to keep all future Couch hearings public. But Boyd ruled against the media's motion.

Victims' family members are suing Couch's family in civil court.

Associated Press writer Nomaan Mercant contributed to this report.

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