The case of a North Texas teenager who used an "affluenza" defense in a deadly drunken-driving crash will be transferred from the juvenile to the adult system, a judge ruled Friday.
Ethan Couch, 18, was in court Friday morning in Fort Worth where a judge agreed to transfer his probation to an adult court before his 19th birthday.
Couch, who was convicted in 2013 of a drunken-driving crash that killed four people and was sentenced to 10 years' probation, will remain in custody for now.
New conditions to Couch's probation are expected to be added during a hearing a few days before his 19th birthday, per the judge, so that the probation conditions are in place when he actually turns 19. If he violates that probation he faces up to 10 years in prison for each person killed in the 2013 crash — a total of 40 years.
The Tarrant County District Attorney's office and Couch's attorneys both said they expected this decision would be made, two years after the 10-year probation sentence was handed down.
"We have been waiting for this day for the last two years and we’re very pleased with the court’s ruling," said Riley Shaw, an assistant district attorney.
"We anticipated that a lengthy probation would be appropriate and we were never going to have any objection to this and we still don't," said Scott Brown, Couch's attorney.
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Brown said they will not argue against any reasonable conditions of probation placed on Couch by an adult court judge. That includes the possibility of county jail time. Under state law, involuntary manslaughter convictions allow a judge to impose 120 days of jail at the start of probation. That time would start on Couch's 19th birthday in April. Brown said the maximum time the judge can impose is 180 days in jail.
Many people in the community still feel unsatisfied with the sentence, including representatives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson, whose agency investigated the accident.
“With all of the tragedy and heartbreak caused by the Couch case, for the first time, we can see a glimpse of hope from the criminal justice system,” said M.A.D.D. National President Colleen Sheehey-Church. “This is only the first step. The sentence Couch received two years ago was a joke, and it’s more than overdue for the criminal justice system to replace his privilege with prison. We ask that the judge make prison time a condition during Couch’s next hearing.”
Couch has been in held in custody since his extradition to the U.S. from Mexico in December. Authorities believe Couch and his mother fled to Mexico after an online video appeared to show Couch at a party where people were drinking. The terms of Couch's probation prohibited him from drinking or leaving Tarrant County and if he were found to be in violation of that probation he could be handed a jail sentence.
NBC 5's Chris Van Horne contributed to this report.