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:
- To provide for the protection of the public and public safety;
- Consistent with the protection of the public and public safety;
- To promote the concept of punishment for criminal acts;
- To remove, where appropriate, the taint of criminality from children committing certain unlawful acts; and
- To provide treatment, training, and rehabilitation that emphasizes the accountability and responsibility of bot the parent and the child for the child’s conduct;
- To provide for the care, the protection, and the wholesome moral, mental and physical development of children coming within its provisions;
- To protect the welfare of the community and to control the commission of unlawful acts by children;
- 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
- 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.