In Texas, offenses committed by an individual who is 10 years or older but under 17 are handled through the juvenile justice system.
In some cases, a person who is at least 17, but not yet 18, can be prosecuted through the juvenile justice system if they are alleged to have engaged in delinquent conduct or conduct indicating the need for supervision as a result of acts that occurred before they turned 17.
As a criminal defense attorney with our firm can explain, the juvenile justice system does not handle these offenses as “crimes” in the general sense. Even though most juvenile cases are based upon a juvenile’s commission of a criminal offense, the offenses are handled under provisions in the Family Code, not provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure. As a result, the proceedings and the applicable laws are different from the adult system.
The juvenile system handles two types of conduct:
Delinquent Conduct is conduct, other than a traffic offense, that violates a criminal law of Texas or of the United States and is punishable by imprisonment or by confinement in jail. Family Code Section 51.03(a)(1). This includes Class A misdemeanors, Class B misdemeanors, and felony offenses.
Conduct Indicating a Need for Supervision (CINS) is conduct, other than a traffic offense, involving fine-only offenses such as truancy, running away, inhalant abuse, expulsion from school or violation of a “child at-risk” court order, prostitution and sexting. Family Code Section 51.03(b).
A juvenile may be taken into custody by a law enforcement agency if the officer has probable cause to believe that an offense has occurred.
Probable cause exists when law enforcement has reasonable trustworthy information sufficient to cause a reasonable person to believe that a particular suspect has committed or is committing a crime.
Note, this is not an arrest. Based on Family Code 52.01(b), even if a juvenile is taken into custody, they can truthfully state that they have never been arrested.
Once a juvenile is taken into custody, the law enforcement officer will take the juvenile to a juvenile processing office.
The juvenile may be held there for up to six hours. Family Code Section 52.025(d)
The juvenile may be held there for:
In Tarrant County, most juveniles are taken to the Juvenile Justice Center or “Kimbo” which is located at 2701 Kimbo Road in Fort Worth. A parent has the right to communicate in person privately with the child for a reasonable period of time.
If the juvenile is not released from detention, or if release is not an option because a firearm was used or exhibited during the commission of the alleged offense, the court must have a detention hearing “promptly” but no less than the second working day after the child is taken into custody.
The juvenile must be represented by an attorney at the detention hearing. If the juvenile is taken into custody on a Friday or Saturday, the detention hearing must be on the first working day after the child is taken into custody. Family Code Section 54.01.
At the detention hearing, the judge will determine whether the juvenile should be released or not. There is no way to obtain a bond to secure a juvenile’s release from custody. If the judge determines the juvenile will not be released, another detention hearing must occur within 10 days. While many criminal law provisions do not apply to juvenile cases, the juvenile does have a right to remain silent. During the detention hearing, the judge will be most interested in the following factors in determining if the juvenile should be released:
A prosecutor may file a petition in juvenile court formally charging the juvenile. This is generally a charge alleging the juvenile engaged in delinquent conduct, but it could also be an allegation that the juvenile engaged in conduct indicting a need for supervision.
A summons is the means by which the family is given notice that charges have been filed and the case is to proceed in juvenile court. The summons informs the court when the child must appear in court.
The prosecuting attorney will determine whether to file a petition for a determinate sentence or an indeterminate sentence.If the prosecuting attorney is seeking a determinate sentence, the prosecutor must obtain grand jury approval for the determinate sentence.
Family Code Section 53.045(a) provides a list of criminal offenses, including habitual felony conduct, for which a juvenile may receive a determinate sentence.
These offenses include: i. Murder (§19.02, P.C.); ii. Capital Murder (§19.03, P.C.); iii. Manslaughter (§19.04, P.C.); iv. Aggravated Kidnapping (§20.04, P.C.); v. Sexual Assault (§22.011, P.C.); vi. Aggravated Sexual Assault (§22.021, P.C.); vii. Aggravated Assault (§22.02, P.C.); viii. Aggravated Robbery (§29.03, P.C.); ix. Injury to a Child, Elderly or Disabled Individual (§22.04, P.C.) (if the offense is punishable as a felony, other than a state jail felony); x. Felony Deadly Conduct (§22.05(b), P.C.) (by discharging a firearm); xi. First Degree or Aggravated Controlled Substances Felony (Ch. 481, Health and Safety Code); xii. Criminal Solicitation (§15.03, P.C.); xiii. Indecency with a Child (§21.11(a)(1), P.C.); xiv. Criminal Solicitation of a Minor (§15.031, P.C.); xv. Criminal Attempt (§15.01, P.C.) (if the offense attempted was murder, capital murder or an offense listed under §3g(a)(1), Art. 42.12, C.C.P.); xvi. Arson (§28.02, P.C.) (if bodily injury or death occurs); or xvii. Intoxication Manslaughter (§49.08, P.C.).
A juvenile has a right to a jury at the adjudication hearing, and must affirmatively waive that right in order to proceed before the judge. The judge explains the allegations to the juvenile, the consequences of the proceedings, and the juvenile’s legal rights. The juvenile will enter a plea of “true” or “not true” to the allegations. The Rules of Evidence do apply to this proceeding.
The State’s burden is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile has engaged in the alleged conduct. If the State cannot prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, the court must dismiss the charge.
An order for adjudication in the juvenile system is generally not considered a conviction. However, an adjudication for a felony offense that took place after January 1, 1996, that resulted in commitment to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), which used to be called the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), is a felony conviction for the purposes of enhancement in an adult court. TJJD is basically prison for juveniles.
The disposition or sentencing hearing is separate from the adjudication hearing.
The sentence may be determinate or indeterminate.
There is no right to have a jury for indeterminate sentence cases.
The juvenile does have a right to a jury for determinate sentencing cases.
The juvenile court may relinquish its original jurisdiction over a juvenile, and have the juvenile tried as an adult in the criminal justice system if:
It is unusual for juvenile courts to certify juveniles as adults. The court will consider:
Whether the offense was against a person or property;
Parents have rights as well as responsibilities in the juvenile justice system.
Pursuant to Family Code Section 61.102(a) parent is entitled to the following information “as soon as practicable” after a child is referred to the juvenile justice system:
Juvenile courts may order parents to pay a variety of fees, court costs, and restitution.
If your child has been charged as a juvenile, it is important to seek counsel from an experienced juvenile defense attorney who has experience handling juvenile proceedings. Our attorneys handle only handle a select number of juvenile cases each year. For instance, we have handled cases involving juveniles charged with murder and sexual assault. If you are interested in finding out if our attorneys would handle your case, give us a call at (817) 203-2220.