Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Affluenza' Driver Out On Probation After Nearly 2 Years In Jail

Ethan Couch is surrounded by reporters after he was released from the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth, Texas, today.
Nick Oxford
Ethan Couch is surrounded by reporters after he was released from the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth, Texas, today.

Ethan Couch, whose defense team famously argued that his wealthy "affluenza" upbringing contributed to his fatal drunken driving crash, was released Monday after serving just under two years in jail.

Couch was 16 at the time of the crash, which killed four people and injured several others. Now 20, he has served 720 days at the Tarrant County Detention Center in Fort Worth, Texas, for violating his probation in relation to the 2013 auto wreck. His attorneys said Couch will serve the remaining six years under community supervision, which in Couch's case includes a number of sanctions and provisions.

"From the beginning, [Couch] has admitted his conduct, accepted responsibility for his actions, and felt true remorse for the terrible consequences of those actions," Couch's lawyers Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn, wrote in a statement. "Now, nearly five years after this horrific event, [Couch] does not wish to draw attention to himself and requests privacy so he may focus on successfully completing his community supervision and going forward as a law-abiding citizen."

He exited the courthouse Monday morning flanked by his legal team without making any statements to the press, and he rode away in the back of a Tesla.

His mother, Tonya Couch, was not there to see him freed. She is in jail awaiting trial on charges of money laundering and helping her son escape when it appeared his initial sentence would be increased. She was arrested last week for failing drug and alcohol tests, a violation of a court bond.

The 2013 trial stirred national outrage and debate after a psychologist contended that Couch, who had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit at the time of the crash, shouldn't be held responsible because his privileged upbringing had left him with "affluenza" and he was incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions.

Rather than hand Couch up to 20 years in jail, as prosecutors had sought, the judge issued what was perceived to be a lenient sentence: 10 years of probation and mandatory rehab.

By contrast, the same judge had nine years earlier sentenced another teen, whose mother was a drug user, to 20 years in jail for a drunken driving incident that left one man dead. And just last week, a Tarrant County judge sentenced a woman to five years for voting illegally. She was serving a nine-month probation at the time.

Couch was jailed two years into his probation after fleeing to Mexico with his mother. The pair had crossed the southern border after a videodepicting the teen playing beer pong — a violation of the teen's probation — surfaced on the Internet. An international search for the pair ensued, but it ended when authorities tracked them down to a "resort town in Puerto Vallarta after they used a cellphone to order a pizza from Domino's," accordingto The Dallas Morning News.

ABC affiliate WFAA reported Couch will face strict conditions for the remainder of his probation:

"Those include alcohol and drug monitoring using a patch and blood or urine samples. He also won't be able to leave his house during the evening or early morning hours, and will have GPS monitoring.

If he eventually obtains a conditional license through the DMV, Couch can only operate a car with an ignition interlock device that also has a camera."

The station says any violation could land him back in court facing up to 10 years in state prison for each of the four intoxication manslaughter cases.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.