Juvenile Law

In Texas you are considered an adult at age seventeen and if you are charged with a crime it is handled in the adult criminal justice system. But there is an entirely different justice system for people charged with crimes who are under the age of seventeen, commonly referred to as juvenile justice. Children between the ages of ten and sixteen can be prosecuted in this system for any crimes they commit, including but not limited to:
theft, assault, criminal mischief, burglary, possession of marijuana or other drugs, driving while intoxicated, robbery, crimes of a sexual nature, and even murder.

Although many of the same principles of criminal law apply, the way crimes are viewed and handled can be vastly different than the adult criminal system.

Although the prosecution of juveniles is for criminal acts, the majority of its rules are governed by the Texas Family Code. Section 51.01 of the Family Code sets out the purpose of juvenile justice as follows:

 

  1. To provide for the protection of the public and public safety;
  2. Consistent with the protection of the public and public safety;
    1. To promote the concept of punishment for criminal acts;
    2. To remove, where appropriate, the taint of criminality from children committing certain unlawful acts; and
    3. To provide treatment, training, and rehabilitation that emphasizes the accountability and responsibility of bot the parent and the child for the child’s conduct;
  3. To provide for the care, the protection, and the wholesome moral, mental and physical development of children coming within its provisions;
  4. To protect the welfare of the community and to control the commission of unlawful acts by children;
  5. To achieve the foregoing purposes in a family environment whenever possible, separating the child from the child’s parent only when necessary for the child’s welfare or in the interest of public safety and when a child is removed from the child’s family, to give the child the care that should be provided by parents; and
  6. To provide a simple judicial procedure through which the provisions of this title are executed and enforced and in which the parties are assured a fair hearing and their constitutional and other legal rights are recognized and enforced

With this concept in mind many of the terms used in juvenile law are different than the adult system. For instance, juveniles are not arrested, they are “detained”. Juveniles are not found guilty, they are “adjudicated delinquent”. Another interesting difference is how the police can interact with juveniles. If an adult is arrested in connection with a crime, the police have to read that adult their “Miranda Warnings” before that person can be interviewed. But did you know in the juvenile system those warnings have to be given to the juvenile by a judge? Navigating the juvenile justice system can be challenging at times, and it helps to have an attorney who is experienced in both criminal law and the specific nuances of juvenile law.

Another example of the difference between the juvenile system and the criminal system is the outcome of the cases. In the adult criminal system there is a distinct difference between misdemeanor crimes and felony crimes. The most jail time an adult could serve for a misdemeanor crime is one year, but for a felony crime it could be life in prison, or even the death penalty. Adults serve their time in county jail facilities, state jail facilities, or prison facilities throughout the state of Texas. However, in the juvenile system, the distinction between misdemeanor crimes and felony crimes is even more pronounced. When charged with a crime or other violations of the law, a juvenile can be placed in a detention facility for a short period of time. The juvenile system does have its own prison system called the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, or TJJD. However, if a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent for only a misdemeanor crime they cannot ever be sent to TJJD. Only juveniles adjudicated delinquent for a felony crime can be sent to TJJD. That doesn’t mean that misdemeanor crimes aren’t serious, it just means the possible consequences aren’t as severe. Read below for a brief synopsis of the Juvenile Justice process in Tarrant County. Keep in mind this process might differ in some jurisdictions.

1
MY CHILD HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF A CRIME, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

If the police believe they have probable cause to detain a juvenile, that juvenile may be apprehended and taken to a juvenile detention facility, provided there is one available. From there, the juvenile will be assigned an intake officer, typically a probation officer, and will have a detention hearing in front of a juvenile judge within 2 working days after the child is taken into custody. The purpose of this hearing is not to determine whether or not the child is guilty of the crime, but simply whether the judge wants to release the child to his or her parent/guardian, or whether the judge wishes for the child to remain in detention. The judge can consider many factors on whether to release or detain, but the most common ones include the nature of the crime, whether the juvenile has any previous history, whether the juvenile has a stable environment to return to, and whether or not the parent/guardian wants the child to come home.  

If the judge chooses to release the juvenile, the judge can place many types of reasonable conditions on the child’s release. This could include that the child submit to drug testing, that the child wear an electronic monitor (GPS), or that the child refrain from contacting victims or co-actors. If the judge decides to keep a juvenile in detention, that juvenile is entitled to another detention hearing within 10 working days. 

2
IS MY CHILD ENTITLED TO A LAWYER AT HIS DETENTION HEARING?

Yes. Section 54.01 of the Texas Family code requires that a juvenile be represented at the hearing by an attorney, unless exigent circumstances make it not feasible. 

3
HOW DOES A JUVENILE CASE GET FILED?

If the police believe they have sufficient evidence to charge a juvenile with a crime they may refer that to the Juvenile Probation Department. That Probation Department will do an initial intake screening and, if necessary, then refer the case to the District Attorney’s Office. Although the Juvenile Probation Department is very involved in the handling of the cases it is ultimately the District Attorney’s Office who is prosecuting the juvenile. If the District Attorney’s Office believes there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, they will file a petition against the juvenile.

4
A PETITION HAS BEEN FILED SO NOW WHAT?

Once a petition has been filed, the juvenile is entitled to an Adjudication Hearing. There are two types of hearings, contested or uncontested. A contested hearing means the juvenile is not agreeing to the charges that have been filed against them and wants to challenge the petition. That can be done either by having a trial in front of a judge, or by having a trial in front of a jury. From there, the District Attorney will present their evidence, the juvenile’s attorney will have their opportunity, and the judge or the jury will decide whether or not the juvenile committed the crime they have been charged with. An uncontested hearing means the juvenile is agreeing to the charges that have been filed against them and does not wish to challenge them. In that instance the juvenile, with their attorney, will go before the judge and be adjudicated delinquent of the crime.  Many times before these hearings are done, the probation department may request certain evaluations of the juvenile be done in order to determine what if any services that child may need. 

5
WHAT IS DPP?

DPP stands for the Deferred Prosecution Program. It is a form of probation that the juvenile can agree to without being formally adjudicated delinquent of the crime for which they have been charged. Essentially it is a contract between the juvenile and the probation department, where the juvenile agrees to complete certain conditions and stay out of trouble for a specific period of time. If the juvenile is successful in the program, the charges are no longer pursued. However, if the juvenile is unsuccessful in the program, the District Attorney’s Office can elect to continue to prosecute the child. This program may not always be available.

6
MY CHILD HAS BEEN ADJUDICATED DELINQUENT, WHAT NEXT?

After an adjudication, a juvenile will have a disposition hearing where the judge will set the terms and conditions of the juvenile’s punishment. In many instances the juvenile will be given a term of probation that can be any length up to the child’s eighteenth birthday. The judge can also impose reasonable conditions including but not limited to electronic monitoring, drug testing, going to school, taking any prescribed medications, paying restitution, avoiding associating with negative influences, and placement. The judge may also order assessments to be done in order to determine if the juvenile needs any specific counseling or resources.  From there, a juvenile will be assigned a probation officer who will monitor the child for the life of his or her probation. 

7
WHAT HAPPENS ONCE MY CHILD SUCCESFULLY COMPLETES PROBATION?

Once a juvenile’s term of probation ends, and if the juvenile has satisfied all the conditions of their probation, they are released from probation and are no longer under the jurisdiction of the court. In many instances that juvenile would then have the ability to seal their records two years after their discharge from probation. Section 58.003 of the Texas Family Code governs the sealing of records. Prior to 2015 the juvenile would have to request the records to be sealed. However, in 2015 the Texas Legislature made a change to how certain cases get sealed, and in some instances the records shall be sealed automatically. 

8
WHAT HAPPENS IF MY CHILD DOESN’T SUCCESFULLY COMPLETE PROBATION?

If a juvenile violates their probation, the District Attorney’s Office can file what is called a Motion to Modify Disposition. If a judge determines that the juvenile did violate their probation the judge can modify the terms of the probation. This could include extended the probation, adding conditions, placement, or in felony cases sentencing the juvenile to TJJD.

9
WHAT IS PLACEMENT?

In both Misdemeanor and Felony probations, the judge has the ability to order a juvenile to be placed outside of their home in a treatment facility or some form of group home. There are various types of placement facilities, both in Texas and outside of Texas, that can address a juveniles specific needs.  These placements can be short term, such as 30 days, but in many instances are much longer. 

10
MY CHILD HAS BEEN SENT TO TJJD, WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

In Felony cases only, the judge has the ability to send the juvenile to juvenile prison, or TJJD. There are two types of sentences, indeterminate sentences and determinate sentences. In an indeterminate sentence, the amount of time the juvenile stays can vary, but they cannot stay past their 19th birthday. However in a determinate sentence, it is possible for the juvenile to have their sentence transferred to adult prison. 

11
WHAT IS CERTIFICATION?

Certification is the process for a juvenile to be tried as an adult. This is a ruling made by the judge of the juvenile court. It is reserved for the most serious cases. If a juvenile is certified, then their case is transferred to the adult system. 
MY CHILD GOT A TICKET, IS THAT HANDLED IN THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM?
Typically, no. Tickets are offenses that are punishable by fine only and are handled by the municipality in which the ticket was issued. However some of these offense can become higher crimes if the child is convicted of them multiple times. Some examples of common tickets are:
Minor in Possession of Alcohol or Tobacco
Minor in Consumption of Alcohol
Public Intoxication
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
Traffic Offenses

The Juvenile Justice System can be complex, and it is important when choosing an attorney to make sure they understand both criminal and juvenile law. If your child has been accused or charged with a crime please do not hesitate to contact our office for a free consultation.