UPDATE at 12:20 p.m. ET: Couch will remain in juvenile detention. He’s not moving to an adult jail, at least not yet.
Ethan Couch returned to the U.S. yesterday after withdrawing his challenge to extradition from Mexico. He fled from Texas with his mother, Tonya, on December 11, 2015 and was located in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico two weeks later. Tonya Couch has already returned to the U.S. and is free on $75,000 bond. She faces up to 10 years if convicted for hindering the apprehension of a fugitive.
Couch is facing a violation of his probation after fleeing the State of Texas and failing to report to his probation officer. This was after a video, that appeared to depict Couch at a beer pong party, went viral shortly before his disappearance. A condition of Couch’s ten-year probationary sentence is that he not consume alcohol.
By law, a detention hearing must be held as quickly as possible after a juvenile is arrested or, in this case, returned to the U.S. A detention hearing determines whether a juvenile should remain in custody or be released to a parent or guardian. It can go forward even if the juvenile’s parents aren’t there. I suspect, however, that Couch’s parents—or at least his father—will attend. According to the Texas Family Code that governs juvenile detention hearings, the judge considers a number of factors in determining whether to hold the juvenile. A juvenile must be released unless at least one factor is present:
(1) he is likely to abscond or be removed from the jurisdiction of the court;
(2) suitable supervision, care, or protection for him is not being provided by a parent, guardian, custodian, or other person;
(3) he has no parent, guardian, custodian, or other person able to return him to the court when required;
(4) he may be dangerous to himself or may threaten the safety of the public if released; or
(5) he has previously been found to be a delinquent child or has previously been convicted of a penal offense punishable by a term in jail or prison and is likely to commit an offense if released.
At the hearing, the judge can hear from witnesses including experts (let’s hope no defense psychological expert relies on affluenza again!) and will have written reports such as a probation report and, perhaps, police reports. Couch could also make a statement though, given his history, one wonders if he’ll apologize for fleeing.
It’s unclear if today’s hearing will incorporate a violation of probation (VOP) hearing since I assume there will be an overlap of the evidence for the detention and VOP hearings. I suspect, however, that a VOP hearing will be held later and that, if Couch is found to have violated his probationary terms, he will be held for up to 120 days. The court will likely start the clock from the time he was captured in Mexico.
Meanwhile, Couch’s transfer hearing to adult court is currently scheduled for Feb. 19, 2016. He turns 19 years old on April 11, 2016 after which it appears family court no longer has jurisdiction over him. The age of majority is 18 years in Texas but a juvenile matter can be extended to the child’s 19th birthday—which is why Family Court still has Couch’s case.
I’ll update following today’s detention hearing.