DALLAS (WFAA) - Lawyers for "affluenza" teen Ethan Couch filed a motion today asking for Couch’s release from jail, claiming that Tarrant County Criminal Court Judge Wayne Salvant never had jurisdiction to incarcerate him or rule on his case.
Couch was 16 years old when he killed four people and injured 11 more in a drunk driving accident. Nearly six month later, on December 10, 2013, he was sentenced by a Texas juvenile court judge to ten years probation and ordered to spend time in a rehabilitation center.
His case became infamous after a defense psychologist claimed he suffered from “affluenza” because of his privileged upbringing.
Couch, now 19 years old, landed back in court in May of this year after he missed a check-in with his probation officer and fled to Mexico with his mother.
But this time, Couch appeared before an adult criminal court judge who ordered him to serve two years in jail, where he currently spends 23 hours a day in isolation.
In today’s filing, Couch’s lawyers argued that he was improperly sent to adult criminal court, even though he is now of legal age.
Juvenile proceedings are “civil actions, not criminal cases,” according to the motion. The defense lawyers claim that Couch’s case should be handled in civil court because it originated in juvenile court, according to their reading of Texas laws and the state’s Constitution. They argue that the narrow exceptions that allow a transfer from juvenile court to criminal court do not apply.
Couch asks that all orders by Judge Salvant, including his jail term, be thrown out, explaining in the motion, "Because this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this matter, this Court has no authority to act whatsoever, and any orders -– including the imposition of any and all conditions of probation – previously entered by this Court in this matter are null and void.”
Meanwhile, Couch's mother Tonya -- who was charged with hindering apprehension of a felon and money laundering -- was released from home confinement earlier this month. A judge said she no longer needed to be under house arrest, but must wear an electronic monitor and not consume alcohol or drugs while awaiting trial. She currently tends bar in suburban Fort Worth, Texas.