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Man Known As 'Affluenza Teen' To Be Released; Drug Test Questioned

Ethan Couch
LM Otero
Associated Press
In this Feb. 19, 2016, file photo, Ethan Couch is led by sheriff deputies after a juvenile court hearing in Fort Worth.

A man who became known as the “affluenza teen” for his unusual defense at a 2013 manslaughter trial was set to be released from a Texas jail after prosecutors raised questions Friday about a drug test that triggered an alleged probation violation.

Ethan Couch, 22, avoided prison following his initial conviction for killing four people while driving drunk. He was instead sentenced to 10 years of probation after a trial in which a psychologist testified that Couch — 16 at the time of the crash — was affected by “affluenza,” or irresponsibility caused by family wealth.

Couch was arrested Thursday after probation officers reported that a drug monitoring patch he wears returned a “weak positive” result for THC, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana, District Attorney Sharen Wilson said in a statement. But it is possible the patch was set off by legal CBD oil and it will take further testing to be sure, she said.

Couch’s lawyers said they are optimistic the tests will verify he did not use a prohibited substance.

“Ethan is committed to his sobriety and to remaining compliant with all of the terms and conditions imposed by the court,” attorneys Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office confirmed he is to be released from a Fort Worth jail, which his attorneys said would happen either Friday or Monday ahead of further investigation and testing.

In a Friday court filing, prosecutors said that after getting the drug test result a court officer wanted Couch in custody to ensure he doesn’t shave his head because his hair might be needed for a follow-up test.

The court officer declined to comment. The Tarrant County probation office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of many chemicals found in cannabis. Most CBD is made from hemp, a low-THC relative of marijuana that was legalizedby the 2018 federal farm bill.

Texas later approved hemp cultivation, creating a haze of legal confusionbecause most state crime labs can’t do the testing to tell the difference between the cannabis plant and its illegal cousin, marijuana.

Couch was found to have a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit for adult drivers after the 2013 crash. Although he was spared prison then, he was later jailed after attending a party where alcohol was served and then fleeing to Mexico with his mother to avoid punishment. He was released in 2018 after serving a nearly two-year sentence.

Updated 4:50 p.m.