Sun | Jun 24, 2018

Experts: Willingness claim unlikely to help "affluenza" teen

Published:Wednesday | January 20, 2016 | 12:00 AM
This December 28, 2015 photo, released by Mexico’s Jalisco state prosecutor’s office, shows who authorities identify as Ethan Couch, after he was taken into custody in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.


An argument raised yesterday by lawyers for a Texas teenager known for using an 'affluenza' defence in a fatal drunken-driving wreck - that he may have been taken to Mexico against his will - is unlikely to help his case, outside juvenile defence attorneys said.

And even if a judge agrees that Ethan Couch was forced to flee to Mexico, he could still be locked up if the judge determines he violated probation by attending a party where people were drinking.

Attorneys for Couch said the 18-year-old is dropping his deportation fight in Mexico as they investigate whether he fled there or was brought against his wishes. He was arrested there with his mother, who is now charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon. She was returned to the United States quickly, but Couch won a delay based on a constitutional appeal that normally leads to a lengthy trial process.

Authorities allege the two crossed into Mexico in December, as Texas prosecutors investigated whether Couch violated his probation in the 2013 drunken-driving case. His attorney, Scott Brown, said yesterday that whether his client "was voluntarily or involuntarily taken to Mexico is something that is still being investigated."

That comment came after a brief hearing in juvenile court scheduled to determine whether Couch, who is being held at a Mexico City detention facility, violated his probation, and if the case should be transferred to adult court. But the judge cut the hearing short after Couch's attorneys said his parents weren't properly notified. Another hearing was set for February 19.

Dallas attorney Peter Schulte said the new defence argument might be related to the affluenza claim that Couch was coddled into a sense of irresponsibility by his wealthy parents. The condition is not recognised as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its use drew widespread derision.

The latest argument, Schulte said, could be "some extension of affluenza, that he can't make decisions on his own and anytime Mommy says to do something, he does it".

But the argument is unlikely to impress a judge because of Couch's age, Schulte said.

Attorney Seth Fuller of Denton, Texas, said Couch's defences are limited to claiming he didn't realise he was violating probation by going to Mexico or that he went there involuntarily.