Fort Worth

Tarrant prosecutors seek to move ‘affluenza’ teen to adult court

Ethan Couch will be 19 in April.
Ethan Couch will be 19 in April. Star-Telegram archives

A motion filed this week in juvenile court would transfer the probation of the teenage drunken driver responsible for a 2013 crash that killed four people to the supervision of adult court.

Ethan Couch, 18, of Keller, lost control of his Ford F-350 pickup on June 15, 2013, and plowed into a group of people helping a woman whose car stalled on Burleson-Retta Road near Burleson. His blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit and traces of Valium were in his system, officials said.

A juvenile court judge sentenced him to 10 years of probation and therapy.

This week, the Tarrant County district attorney’s office filed a motion to transfer Couch to the supervision of an adult court. Without the transfer, under the Texas Family Code, Couch’s probation will expire on his 19th birthday in April.

Filing the motion was standard procedure, said Richard Alpert, who prosecuted Couch at trial in December 2013. “There’s nothing novel or unique about this,” Alpert said.

“We’re not pulling anything out of a hat.”

A hearing will be scheduled, and a juvenile judge will accept or reject the motion, said Sam Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.

“If it is accepted, it will then be assigned to an adult district court judge, who will determine the provisions of his adult probation,” Jordan said.

Under an adult court judge, Couch’s probation terms could change or stay the same.

“For any good cause shown, any district judge can add or take away what they see fit,” Alpert said. “The judge has that discretion.”

Killed in the crash were Breanna Mitchell, 24, of Lillian, the woman whose car had broken down; Hollie and Shelby Boyles, nearby residents who came to her aid; and Burleson youth minister Brian Jennings, a passer-by who also stopped to help.

Seven passengers were in Couch’s truck.

During his trial, Couch was described in testimony as being from an affluent, dysfunctional family, and a psychologist said he was a victim of “affluenza,” a state of reckless or irresponsible behavior brought on by wealth.

Prosecutors Alpert and Riley Shaw asked state District Judge Jean Boyd, now retired, to sentence Couch to 20 years in jail. Instead, she ordered Couch to get therapy at a state facility in Vernon and ordered his parents to pay for the treatment.

This includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

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