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“Affluenza” teen case highlights aspects of Texas juvenile justice system, P.1

A Texas teen who was sentenced to 10 years of probation in the juvenile system for a drunken driving crash in 2013 which killed four people is in bigger trouble now after he was accused of violating of his probation from that case. The young man, Ethan Couch, was reportedly deported from Mexico in late January and booked into the Texas jail system in Tarrant County earlier this month. Couch and his mother are believed to have fled to Mexico after a video came to light back in December which appeared to show Couch participating in a drinking party.

At this point, authorities are determining whether to transfer the 18-year-old’s case to the adult system. Ironically, the punishment for Couch could actually be lighter if the case is transferred to the adult system, where he wouldn’t face incarceration unless he chooses to violate his probation going forward. If he stays in the juvenile system, though, he may have to spend up to 10 years in adult prison after aging out of the juvenile system.

In Texas, teens younger than the age of 17 generally may not be prosecuted in the criminal system, except in cases where a juvenile court waives exclusive original jurisdiction and transfers a child to a criminal district court and in certain other circumstances. This requires the child to be certified as an adult, which usually only occurs in serious felony cases.

In our next post, we’ll look a bit more at what penalties Couch could face if he is transferred to the criminal system, some of the factors juvenile courts face in determining whether to certify a juvenile, and why it is so important for young people to work with an experienced attorney when they become involved with the law.

Source: Texas Attorney General, 2014 Juvenile Justice Handbook, pg. 25. 

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