What is juvenile certification in Texas?
In Texas, juveniles can be certified to stand trial as an adult if they are accused of serious crimes, such as murder or aggravated sexual assault. 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.
If the judge agrees to certify a juvenile to stand trial as an adult, the case will be transferred to adult criminal court. Once a case has been transferred, the minor will be tried as an adult and subject to the adult criminal justice process and the penalties associated with that offense.
However, there are a few caveats regarding certified juveniles. In the adult system, an adult convicted of capital murder faces either the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. By law, certified juveniles convicted of capital murder face an automatic life sentence with the possibility of parole.
Likewise, certified juveniles convicted of certain sex crimes are not required to register as sex offenders for life. The maximum sex offender registration requirement for certified juveniles is 10 years.
Juvenile Certification in Tarrant County and the Surrounding Areas
The juvenile justice system is designed to handle minors who get in trouble with the law, focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment. However, in rare instances, prosecutors will seek to transfer juveniles to adult criminal court, especially if the alleged offense is violent or high-profile. This process is known as juvenile certification and is not taken lightly.
This article will discuss the basics of juvenile certification and when a minor can be tried as an adult in Texas. We will also explain what happens to teens who are certified to stand trial as an adult in Tarrant County.
Who qualifies for juvenile certification if you are under age 18?
Under Section 54.02 (a) of the Texas Family Code, to be eligible for juvenile certification, the offender must be:
- at least 14 years old and under age 17 at the time he or she is alleged to have committed the offense and charged with capital murder, an aggravated controlled substance felony, or a first-degree felony; or
- at least 15 years old and under age 17 at the time he or she is alleged to have committed the offense and charged with a state jail felony or a second or third-degree felony; and
- the defendant has not been adjudicated.
Who qualifies for juvenile certification if you are age 18 or over?
Under Section 54.02 (j) of the Texas Family Code, to be eligible for juvenile certification if you are 18 years old or older, the offender must have been:
- at least 10 years old and under age 17 at the time he or she is alleged to have committed capital murder or murder; or
- at least 14 years old and under age 17 at the time he or she is alleged to have committed an aggravated controlled substance felony or a first-degree felony other than murder; or
- at least 15 years old and under age 17 at the time he or she is alleged to have committed a state jail felony or a second or third-degree felony; and
- the defendant has not been adjudicated.
Finally, for someone 18 or older to be certified, the judge must find probable cause to proceed and find by a preponderance of the evidence:
- It was not practical to proceed in juvenile court before the 18th birthday of the accused – for reason’s beyond the state’s control; or
- The state exercised due diligence before the accused’s 18th birthday but could not proceed because new evidence was found after their 18th birthday; the accused could not be found; or there was a previous transfer order that was reversed or set aside.
Who decides if a juvenile should stand trial as an adult?
The District Attorney’s Office decides whether to seek juvenile certification. If prosecutors decide to seek certification, they will file a petition with the juvenile court seeking a “waiver of jurisdiction.”
In other words, the prosecution is asking the juvenile court to waive its jurisdiction over the juvenile and transfer the case to an adult criminal district court. The juvenile court then holds a transfer hearing to decide whether or not to certify the juvenile to stand trial as an adult.
What happens before the transfer hearing?
Before the certification (or transfer) hearing, the court will order a complete diagnostic study, social evaluation, and investigation of the juvenile, including his or her circumstances and the circumstances of the offense.
At least five days before the hearing, the court will provide the prosecution and defense access to all written material that the court will consider in making its decision.
What happens at the transfer hearing?
All juvenile certification hearings are presided over and decided by a juvenile court judge, not an associate judge or magistrate. Likewise, a jury does not decide juvenile certifications.
As with other criminal court proceedings, there will be a prosecutor and a defense attorney in the courtroom – both of whom will present evidence and make arguments. The prosecutor will work to have the juvenile transferred to the adult system, while the defense will fight to keep the teen in the juvenile system.
The juvenile defendant will also be present in the courtroom, along with his or her parent or guardian. If a parent or guardian cannot be there, the court will appoint a guardian for the juvenile.
How does the judge determine whether a juvenile under 18 should be certified to stand trial as an adult?
When considering certification, the juvenile court judge must first determine that there is probable cause that the youth committed the offense. The court must also believe that because of the seriousness of the alleged offense or the background of the child, the welfare of the community requires proceedings in adult criminal court.
In addition to the above criteria, the juvenile court must consider four other factors:
- whether the offense was against a person or property (crimes against people are generally more serious);
- the sophistication and maturity of the child;
- the record of the child in the juvenile justice system; and
- public protection and the child’s likelihood of rehabilitation within the juvenile system.
It’s important to point out that the factors in this list are not criteria that have to be met – but merely factors that the judge has to consider. In other words, the judge has to consider these things, but he or she can base their decision on something else entirely. It is purely within the judge’s discretion to transfer the child or not.
At the end of the hearing and after considering all of the evidence and weighing all factors, the judge will decide whether to certify the juvenile to stand trial as an adult. If the certifies the youth, the case will be transferred to the adult system for prosecution. If the judge denies the prosecution’s request for certification, the juvenile will remain in the juvenile system.
What are some possible defenses to certification?
An experienced juvenile defense attorney will do everything possible to try and convince the judge that the teen would be better served in the juvenile justice system and that the case should not be transferred to adult court. Some common defenses include:
- Highlighting the positive aspects of the child and his or her background;
- Presenting mitigating evidence, such as disabilities or mental health issues;
- Pointing out the child’s lack of previous criminal record;
- Showing progress in the juvenile system;
- Demonstrating the child is amenable to rehabilitation;
- Showing a strong support system;
- Arguing that the child is too unsophisticated for the adult criminal justice system;
These are just some possible defenses that could be implemented to try and convince the judge to deny certification. If you or your child is facing juvenile certification proceedings in Texas, it is crucial that you have an experienced juvenile defense attorney on your side to fight for the best possible outcome.
What happens if a juvenile is certified to stand trial as an adult?
If the juvenile court judge decides to certify a child to stand trial as an adult, he or she will be transferred out of the juvenile system and into the adult criminal justice system. The juvenile will then go through regular adult court proceedings and, if convicted, will be subject to adult sentencing.
What happens if a juvenile is certified to stand trial as an adult in Tarrant County?
If a juvenile is certified to stand trial as an adult in Tarrant County, his or her case will be transferred out of the juvenile system to the adult criminal justice system. The case will be assigned to a District Court in the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in downtown Fort Worth, where it will go through the same process as all adult criminal court cases.
Will the juvenile be housed with adult inmates in Tarrant County Jail?
The juvenile court judge who certified the youth may order the child to be held in the adult jail, but he or she won’t be housed with adults until age 17. Or, the judge may order the child to remain in juvenile detention, housed with the rest of the juveniles, until age 17.
What if a person is an adult by the time they are arrested for a juvenile offense?
In some cases, a person is arrested as an adult for an alleged offense committed years ago as a juvenile. In these cases, the adult – meaning over age 18 – will be certified to stand trial as an adult after a routine transfer hearing. Adults are not prosecuted in the juvenile system.
What’s the difference between adult prisons and juvenile prisons in Texas?
In Texas, adults sentenced to prison are remanded to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Juveniles are committed to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), the state’s juvenile penal system.
TDCJ is responsible for housing adult offenders while serving sentences ranging from a few months to life in prison. TJJD, on the other hand, is responsible for providing rehabilitation and treatment services to juvenile offenders to help them get their lives back on track. Teens still behind bars after their 19th birthday can be transferred to adult prison.
Facing juvenile certification in Tarrant County? Contact us.
If your child has been accused of a serious felony in Fort Worth or the surrounding area, it’s imperative that you contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney. Attorney Lisa Herrick is a partner at Varghese Summersett and board certified in juvenile law – a designation held by only three attorneys in Tarrant County.
Lisa specializes in juvenile law and has handled every type of juvenile criminal case, including capital murder, murder, sexual assault, and other violent felonies. She is the juvenile attorney who parents and families turn to when a child faces the biggest problem of their life.
Call 817-203-2220 today to schedule a free consultation.