FORT WORTH — Ethan Couch, the teenager who used an “affluenza” defense in a drunken-driving crash that killed four people and then violated probation by fleeing to Mexico with his mother, was sentenced on Wednesday to nearly two years in jail.
A district court judge, Wayne F. Salvant, ruled here that Mr. Couch must spend 180 days in jail for each person killed, and then said the court would reconvene in two weeks to consider modifying the terms after each side submitted additional written arguments.
“Nothing I do is in stone, so I might reconsider,” Judge Salvant said.
Early in the hearing, Judge Salvant indicated that he would not decide on Wednesday how long Mr. Couch, who turned 19 on Monday, would stay in the county jail, but he later reconsidered and imposed the sentence.
The case dates from June 15, 2013, when Mr. Couch, who was 16 at the time, and a group of friends stole beer from a store and went for a drive. Mr. Couch, who was behind the wheel, hit four people on the side of a road outside Burleson, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, killing them. A passenger in Mr. Couch’s vehicle was paralyzed and suffered brain damage.
Mr. Couch’s case caught widespread attention after a defense witness argued that Mr. Couch suffered from “affluenza,” a term used to describe the psychological problems that can afflict children of privilege.
A juvenile court judge, Jean Boyd, subsequently declined to give him the punishment sought by Tarrant County prosecutors — 20 years in prison — and ordered him to be placed in a long-term treatment facility while on 10-year probation.
The decision angered the families of those Mr. Couch killed and injured. Others questioned whether a teenager with a less affluent background would have received similar leniency.
In December, prosecutors began investigating whether Mr. Couch had violated conditions of his probation after a six-second video posted online appeared to show Mr. Couch at a party where alcohol was being consumed. Then Mr. Couch vanished. He later turned up with his mother, Tonya Couch, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they were arrested and returned to the United States. Ms. Couch has been charged with hindering apprehension.
Because he had fled, Mr. Couch was placed in juvenile detention after being brought back to Texas. But prosecutors did not pursue a specific penalty in juvenile court for a probation violation because he would have aged out of the system once he turned 19.
Instead, Mr. Couch’s case was moved to adult court, which led to Wednesday’s hearing.