Understanding Juvenile Capital Murder Charges in Texas [2023]

What Happens When a Juvenile is Charged Capital Murder in Texas?

In Texas, the most severe charge for which a juvenile can be charged is capital murder. It is reserved for homicides that have aggravated factors,  such as multiple murders, killing a public servant, or committing a murder during the commisssion of another felony. It allows prosecutors to seek the harshest penalties possible.

For adults, those penalties are the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Fortunately, the law doesn’t allow such extreme punishments for juvenile capital murder charges in Texas. Still, the stakes are still extremely high.

If your child is facing a capital murder charge in North Texas, the most important thing you can do is contact a highly-experienced juvenile defense attorney as soon as possible. Time is of the essence; things move faster for juveniles than adults.

At Varghese Summersett, we are fortunate to have one of the foremost juvenile experts in Texas on our team. Lisa Herrick is Board Certified in Juvenile Law – one of only two attorneys in Tarrant County and only 70 in the state of Texas to hold this prestigious distinction. She has a proven track record of success defending juveniles charged with capital murder in Texas.

In this article, we will explain juvenile capital murder charges, potential punishments, and answer frequently asked questions. But first, please take a moment to watch this video by Lisa in which she gives an overview of juvenile capital murder charges in Texas.

What Constitutes Juvenile Capital Murder Charges?

The offense of capital murder is the same for an adult and a juvenile. It is a homicide that occurs under specific circumstances, such as killing a police officer, committing a murder during the commission of another felony, or multiple murders.

Under Section 19.03a of the Texas Penal Code, a person commits capital murder if he or she commits murder AND

  • The individual killed is a peace officer or fireman in the line of duty and the person knows the individual is a peace officer or fireman;
  • The killing occurs during the commission or attempt of the following felonies: kidnapping, burglary, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat;
  • The killing was committed for payment or promise of payment. Both the person who kills another and the person who hires a person to kill are guilty of capital murder;
  • The killing occurs during the escape, whether successful or not, from a penal institution;
  • The individual killed is an employee of a penal institution and the killing is committed by an incarcerated person;
  • The killing is committed by an incarcerated person in conjunction with organized criminal activity;
  • The killing is committed by a person incarcerated for murder or capital murder;
  • The killing is committed by a person incarcerated for the following aggravated felonies: aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated robbery;
  • The person kills more than one individual either during the same criminal transaction or during different transactions but under a common scheme;
  • The person killed is under 10 years old; or
  • The individual killed was a judge or justice and the killing was committed in retaliation or on account of the judge or justice’s service.

Can a Juvenile Charged With Capital Murder in Texas be Certified to Stand Trial as an Adult?

Yes, in Texas, a juvenile may be tried as an adult if they are at least 14 years old at the time he or she is alleged to have committed the offense and are charged with capital murder, a first-degree felony, or an aggravated drug charge.

If the accused is already over 18 when charges are brought, they must have been at least 10 years old at the time he or she is alleged to have committed capital murder.

The decision to seek certification is up to the juvenile prosecutor handling the case and must be granted by a juvenile judge after a hearing. Learn more about juvenile certification.

What is the Punishment for a Juvenile Capital Murder Conviction in Texas?

In Texas, adults convicted of capital murder face the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Fortunately, those are not the punishment options for juvenile capital murder in Texas. Juveniles convicted of capital murder face the following punishments:

  • Under Section 12.31 of the Texas Penal Code, youth under the age of 18 who are certified to stand trial as an adult in Texas and convicted of capital murder, will receive an automatic life sentence with the possibility of parole after 40 years.
  • If the youth is not certified and is adjudicated (convicted) of capital murder in the juvenile justice system, they may face a “determinate sentence” with a maximum punishment of 40 years of incarceration. A judge or jury will decide the number of years. The sentence will begin in Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), which is juvenile prison. Just before their 19th birthday, a hearing before the juvenile court will be held to determine whether the youth will be transferred to adult prison to complete his or her sentence or discharged. Learn more about determinate sentencing.

Can a Juvenile Convicted of Capital Murder Receive the Death Penalty in Texas?

No, unlike adults, juveniles are not eligible to receive the death penalty in Texas or anywhere in the U.S. The death penalty for juveniles was abolished in 2005 by U.S. Supreme Court case, Roper v. Simmons.

The case involved Christopher Simmons, who was sentenced to death for a murder he committed when he was 17 years old. The central question in the case was whether executing a juvenile offender who was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime constituted cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for crimes committed by individuals under the age of 18. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, argued that evolving standards of decency and scientific evidence of the differences in adolescent brain development made it clear that juvenile offenders should not be subject to the death penalty. As a result of this decision, the death penalty for juvenile offenders was abolished in the United States.

Can a Juvenile Convicted of Capital Murder in Texas Receive Automatic Life Without Parole?

No, a juvenile who is certified to stand trial as an adult cannot receive an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole – which is a punishment option for adults convicted of capital murder. This is due, in part, to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, which ruled that mandatory life imprisonment without parole for juvenile offenders convicted of homicide offenses is unconstitutional, as it violates the Eight Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The case involved Evan Miller, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a crime he committed when he was 14 years old. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life imprisonment without parole for juvenile offenders convicted of homicide was unconstitutional. The majority opinion, written by Justice Elena Kagan, emphasized that judges must consider the unique characteristics of juvenile offenders, such as their age, immaturity, and potential for rehabilitation, before imposing a sentence of life without parole.

The Court held that a mandatory sentencing scheme that did not allow for such individualized consideration violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. However, the ruling did not entirely ban life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders; it only required that the sentencing process take into account the specific circumstances of each case.

However, Texas lawmakers took it further and eliminated the automatic life sentence the possibility for parole for youth younger than 18 years old convicted of capital murder. In Texas, a certified juvenile convicted of capital murder is eligible for parole after 40 years, which cannot be reduced for good time.

Juvenile Defense Lawyer Fort Worth | Board Certified Juvenile Defense

Why is it Important to Have a Skilled Juvenile Attorney for a Juvenile Capital Murder Charge?

Juvenile law is a highly specialized area of law that is very complicated, even for attorneys. That’s why it is crucial to have an experienced attorney who has dedicated their career to this area of law and understands the unique issues involved in juvenile cases. Attorney Lisa Herrick is Board Certified in Juvenile, which qualifies her as an expert. Very few attorneys can say that in the entire state of Texas.

Lisa has extensive experience handling complex juvenile cases and is well-equipped to handle any juvenile capital murder case, regardless of how complex.

Has Lisa Herrick Handled Juvenile Capital Murder Cases?

Yes, you will be hard-pressed to find a North Texas attorney who has handled more juvenile capital murder or murder cases than Lisa. She worked as a juvenile prosecutor for years before going into private practice as a highly sought-after defense attorney.

She has a proven track record of success defending teens accused high-profile homicides. For example, she recently represented a 14-year-old teen in a high-profile case referred to as the “Uber Eats Murder.” She prohibited her client from being certified to stand trial as an adult and he received a 7-year determinate sentence. The other teen charged with capital murder in the case was certified to stand trial as an adult and received a 45-year sentence in the adult prison system.

Lisa is currently representing a number of teens accused in homicide cases in North Texas, including a 15-year-old accused in the shooting outside of Arlington Lamar High School in March 2023.

 Child Charged with Capital Murder? Contact Lisa Herrick.

When your child’s future is on the line, you need an experienced, highly-skilled juvenile attorney who understands the law, knows the system, and will fight for the best possible outcome. Lisa Herrick is widely known in North Texas and has built her career and reputation defending teens accused of serious crimes. When the stakes are this high, it’s crucial to have the best in your corner. Call 817-203-2220 for a consultation with Lisa.

 In Texas, a person is considered a juvenile if they are between the ages of 10 and 17.

 No, following the Supreme ruling in Roper v. Simmons, the death penalty is unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.

 A juvenile charged with capital murder in Texas must be at least 14 years old to be certified to stand trial as an adult.

Factors considered include the seriousness of the offense, the juvenile’s age, maturity level, prior criminal history, and the likelihood of rehabilitation within the juvenile system. 

 Capital murder involves specific circumstances that elevate the crime, such as during a felony, multiple murders, or the murder of a public servant. Regular murder is the intentional killing of another person without these additional factors

Texas law prohibits the death penalty for juveniles, but allows for life sentences for certified juveniles with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

 The certification process involves a hearing in which the juvenile court determines if the case should be transferred to adult court based on factors such as the severity of the offense and the likelihood of rehabilitation within the juvenile system.

However, if the juvenile entered into a plea bargain agreement, they waived their right to appeal. An experienced attorney can evaluate the case for possible grounds for appeal, such as errors in the trial process or new evidence.

Child Charged with Capital Murder? Contact Lisa Herrick.

When your child’s future is on the line, you need an experienced, highly-skilled juvenile attorney who understands the law, knows the system, and will fight for the best possible outcome. Lisa Herrick is widely known in North Texas and has built her career and reputation defending teens accused of serious crimes. When the stakes are this high, it’s crucial to have the best in your corner. Call 817-203-2220 for a consultation with Lisa.

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About the Author Board Certified Lawyer Benson Varghese

About the Author

Benson Varghese is the managing partner of Varghese Summersett. He is a seasoned attorney, highly esteemed for his comprehensive knowledge and expertise in the field. He has successfully handled thousands of state and federal cases, ranging from misdemeanor driving while intoxicated cases to capital offenses, showcasing his commitment to preserving justice and upholding the rights of his clients. His firm covers criminal defense, personal injury, and family law matters. Benson is also a legal tech entrepreneur. Benson is a go-to authority in the legal community, known for his ability to explain complex legal concepts with clarity and precision. His writings offer a wealth of in-depth legal insights, reflecting his extensive experience and his passion for the law. Not only is Benson an accomplished litigator, but he is also a dedicated advocate for his clients, consistently striving to achieve the best possible outcomes for them. His authorship provides readers with valuable legal advice and an understanding of the complexities of the criminal justice system. CriminalPersonal InjuryFamily Law Contact
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