In June 2013, Ethan Couch killed four people and injured nine others by drinking and illegally driving on a restricted license. The 16-year-old was indicted for intoxication, manslaughter, and recklessly driving under the influence.
The case made national headlines when Couch’s lawyer used a unique defense that led the judge to give what many described as too light of a sentence. Couch was sentenced to 10 years of probation in the juvenile court system and therapy at an in-patient facility. The attorney argued that the teen suffered from “affluenza,” a term that was created to describe a person who appears to be unable to understand the consequences of their actions because of the privileges they’ve received in life, including wealth and a lack of punishments.
In December 2015, Couch and his mother left the country after a video of Couch violating the terms of his probation surfaced online. They were located in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Since his deportation from Mexico, Couch has been jailed in Tarrant County. His case was transferred from the juvenile courts to the adult court system in April of this year. A judge recently affirmed a new 2-year jail sentence for his crimes.
Texas Law on Intoxicated Manslaughter
Texas Penal Code Section 49.08 states anyone who causes the death of another person while operating a vehicle while intoxicated is guilty of a crime. It is illegal for drivers under the age of 21 to have any detectable alcohol in their systems. For those of legal drinking age, the legal BAC limit is .08 percent. Couch had a BAC of .24 percent the night of the crash.
This offense is a second-degree felony, which is punishable by a minimum of 2 years and up to 20 years in prison, as well as a $10,000 fine.
Considering the length of time someone can spend in prison for this crime, it’s no wonder that Couch’s original sentence caused an uproar. Despite his age, Couch’s BAC at the time of the accident was three times the legal limit after he had been drinking beer and hard alcohol at party.
Probation is a commonly used tool to keep people out of prison. Under probation, the offender agrees to abide by a number of conditions such as reporting to a probation officer, remaining alcohol and drug free, taking drug and alcohol tests, performing community service, and more. Probation also often restricts a person’s ability to travel out of their state without permission.
If someone violates probation they will return to court where they have the chance to admit or contest the allegations. If they admit the violation or are found guilty in an evidentiary hearing, then they will receive a penalty. Punishments for probation violations can include additional conditions on their freedom or time in jail or prison.
Couch violated probation by drinking alcohol and then again by fleeing the country. These violations are why he is back in the court system and serving a 2 year jail sentence.
Once Couch is released, he will again be on probation – this time as an adult. If he violates the terms of his probation in the future, he could again face time in jail.
Contact a Houston Criminal Defense Attorney
If you’ve been charged with intoxication manslaughter, you need a highly educated and experienced DWI defense lawyer to represent you in court. If you want the strongest defense possible under the law, call The Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767.
Barnett has more than 30 years of experience as a federal and state prosecutor and then as a defense attorney. He knows the ins and outs of Texas law and will fight for your rights in court.