MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press
MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican lawyer for a Texas teenager known for using an “affluenza” defense in a fatal drunken-driving accident said Monday that his appeal against deportation could delay his client’s return to the United States for weeks, perhaps months — or just a single day.
Lawyer Fernando Benitez said he will meet Tuesday with client Ethan Couch at the immigration detention center where the teen is being held in Mexico City. That meeting will determine whether Couch stretches out the process, or agrees to drop the appeal.
“If he doesn’t want to continue with it (the appeal), he could be deported in 24 hours,” Benitez said.
Benitez said he was hired to represent Couch in Mexico, but didn’t say who hired him.
If Couch decides he prefers to stay at the spartan detention center in a Mexico City slum, rather than return to Texas, the appeal could take “some weeks, or some months,” Benitez said. He noted that Couch was just hours away from being deported last week when the injunction was granted.
Benitez said the appeal centers on why Mexican officials tried to use a deportation proceeding instead of the longer extradition process in Couch’s case. Extradition requires Mexico’s Foreign Ministry to accept a formal request from the U.S. government to extradite a person. The request, and the evidence against the defendant, is then evaluated by a Mexican court in a much more lengthy process.
“They wanted to use a ‘fast-track’ process,” Benitez said of the deportation of Couch and his mother, Tonya, who was put on a flight back to the United States.
Tonya Couch was jailed in Los Angeles on Thursday after being deported from Mexico.
Ethan Couch, who received only probation for the wreck in Texas that killed four people, fled to Mexico with his mother in November as prosecutors investigated whether he had violated that probation. Both were taken into custody a week ago after authorities said a phone call for pizza led to their capture in the Pacific resort city of Puerto Vallarta.
Benitez stressed that he wasn’t judging Couch’s guilt or innocence, but only assuring that he had an equal defense before the law.
“What we are interested in is that things be done correctly,” the attorney said. “It is not our place to judge people.”
Ethan Couch is being held at the Agujas immigration detention center, where his wealthy upbringing may not have prepared him for the common sleeping areas and bathrooms and concrete wash basins for hand-washing clothes.
The white-washed, high-fenced facility usually houses several dozen immigrants, mainly Central Americans.
Couch is sleeping on a cot or bunk in a semi-open bedroom shared with two or three other detainees. Unarmed immigration guards patrol the unit, and a closed-circuit camera system is constantly filming in most area other than the common bathrooms. Armed guards are posted at the outside gates and walls.
Immigration officials say that along with three meals a day, Couch has access to TV and movies in one of the austere common rooms or can go to an outside patio where there is a basketball court and small soccer field.
He will have unlimited access to telephones and access to medical, dental and psychological care.
Couch was driving drunk and speeding near Fort Worth in June 2013 when he crashed into a disabled SUV, killing four people and injuring several others, including passengers in his pickup truck.
He pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury.
During the sentencing phase of his trial, a defense expert argued that his wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility — a condition the expert termed “affluenza.” The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association and its invocation during the legal proceedings drew ridicule.
A judge sentenced Couch to 10 years’ probation and a stint in a rehabilitation center.
Couch missed a mandatory appointment with his probation officer Dec. 10.