If you are a parent of a child who has been arrested in Texas, it is important that you know exactly how the law works. In juvenile court under the Texas Family Code, there is a different set of rules determining how long a child can be held in custody compared to an adult. As a parent, this is likely to be an extremely stressful time for you, so we will provide all the information you need to know below.
Parents of juvenile offenders are advised to seek the support of an experienced attorney as soon as possible after they are notified their child is in custody. Your attorney will be able to ensure your child’s legal rights are upheld and advise you of the next best step to take at every turn.
Here at the Love DuCote Law Firm, we have a wealth of experience supporting children in custody and their families. We will treat your case with the utmost seriousness, care, and compassion and work our hardest to remove your child from police custody as quickly as possible and minimize the legal impacts of their arrest.
Who Is Considered A Juvenile In Texas?
In Texas, a child can be charged for any criminal activity committed after the age of 10.
At the other end, the cut off for juvenile consideration is the age of 17. After this point, a person is legally considered an adult.
If your child falls into this 10-17 age range, we strongly advise you to ensure that they have an experienced attorney by their side to guide them through the legal process and limit the damage to their life.
How Long Can A Juvenile Offender Be Held In Court In Texas?
Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule determining how long a child can be held in custody.
Thankfully, however, there are a number of child custody systems in place to ensure that a juvenile offender is not kept in custody for an unnecessarily long time. We will explore these in the following sections.
Delivery To The Juvenile Processing Office
Texas law states that law enforcement officers must deliver any arrested child to the juvenile processing office in a direct manner that does not include an “unnecessary delay.” However, if the child in question is injured, the police officer is authorized to take them to a medical facility while in custody, before taking them to the processing office.
This processing office is simply a specific room in a police station or in a sheriff’s office that is specifically designated for the holding of child offenders. It is illegal to hold a child in this place for a quantity of time greater than 6 hours.
What Happens In A Juvenile Processing Office?
Law enforcement involved in child custody are only permitted to use this space for the following reasons:
- Holding the child while law enforcement wait for the parents or other responsible adult to come and collect them
- Filling out essential forms and collecting essential records
- Taking fingerprints or photographs of the offender, but only if the law enforcement officer is authorized to do so
- Issuing an official warning to the offender, if it is required by law
- Taking the offender’s official statement
Parents Must Be Notified Of The Arrest Promptly
It is the legal obligation of law enforcement officers to promptly notify the parents of children in custody that their child has been arrested. They must also disclose the reason that the child in question has been taken into custody.
The same is true if the child in question does not have blood or adopted parents, but instead has a legal guardian. In this situation, it is still the law for the officers to notify and explain the reason for the arrest.
Detention Hearings Must Be Conducted Within 48 Hours Of The Arrest
Children who have been arrested or accused of a crime and taken into custody must receive a detention hearing within 48 hours.
In Texas, this hearing must be presided over by a court or magistrate. It will be their decision whether to further detain the child or release them to their parents or legal guardian.
To further clarify what is meant by this 48-hour period, a child must receive their detention hearing on the second working day after they are taken into custody. If they are arrested on a Friday or Saturday, the hearing process must take place on the very next working day.
Parents Must Also Be Notified About The Detention Hearing
Parents must receive notice of the planned detention hearing within a reasonable timeframe.
However, in cases where the parents of the child taken into custody cannot be found or contacted, the court will appoint a designated representative guardian to the child for their detention hearing.
As with an adult criminal charge, the child has complete right to legal counsel at all detention hearings – and we would strongly suggest that parents take this approach to avoid the worst consequences of a juvenile offense.
How Does A Detention Hearing Work?
The law dictates that a detention hearing must result in the release of the arrested child, unless the court finds one or more of the following to be true:
- The child is likely to either flee or be removed by a parent or someone else from the county jurisdiction of the court
- There is no parent or guardian providing suitable care, protection, or supervision for the child
- The child is likely to be a danger to himself or other members of the public if they are released
- The child is already considered a delinquent in the eyes of the law or has already been convicted of a crime that is punishable by jail time and is likely to commit further criminal offenses if released
If the court rules that any of the above is true, the next step in the process is that the child will be moved to a juvenile detention facility.
Detention Hearings Must Be Repeated
Once the arrested child reaches the juvenile detention facility, Texas laws dictate that they are still not able to be kept there indefinitely until the juvenile court date.
Every 10 days the child must appear before the court for another detention hearing to prove that their continued detention is still necessary.
This means that just because a child is taken to a detention facility once, they may not have to stay there until their juvenile court date. This is something that your attorney may be able to assist with, especially if the process is taking an unreasonable amount of time.
The Juvenile Probation Department Is The Likely Result For A Minor Misdemeanor
If the child in custody is not a repeat offender or has only committed a minor offense, the police are likely to return the child from custody to their parent.
However, even if that child is not arrested, they may be referred for a period of probation. However, if this request is violated by the parents, or if reasonable attempts are not made to reign in the child’s behavior and another criminal act occurs, the consequences may escalate.
Your Child’s School May Be Informed
It is possible that your child’s school or the school district may be informed of the criminal act they performed.
This does not necessarily always happen, but it is a possibility if the alleged criminal act was particularly serious or poses a danger to the children of another parent.
How Does The Bail System Work In Juvenile Court?
Unfortunately, due to Texas Family Code, there is no bail system for children in the way that it would work for an adult person who has been accused of committing a crime.
However, under certain circumstances, the child may be released from or spared detention. We will cover the details of this in the next section.
How Court-Ordered Release Conditions Work After A Juvenile Offense
A court may impose conditions on releasing a child offender, in the same way they would with an adult person. However, it is not an official bond and differs in some crucial ways.
The biggest difference is that the court has the authority to impose release conditions on both the child who committed the offense and their parent. These conditions are court ordered and breaching them will be seen as a violation of the court’s release conditions.
A parent may be required to move the child to a different address or keep them away from all other children, especially in cases of sexual abuse. A parent may also be limited to keeping their child in the same county and avoiding trips or vacations without permission. These are just two examples, and the stipulations will differ from case to case.
How Petitions Impact Detention In A Child Offense Case
Another thing that may impact the amount of time your child spends in a detention facility is how quickly the state files an official petition alleging their offenses.
There are two categories dictating when a petition must be filed – 30 days and 15 days after the initial detention hearing.
The state has 30 days to file a petition if the child:
- Is accused of a capital felony
- Is accused of a first-degree felony
- Is accused of an aggravated felony for possession of a controlled substance
In all other circumstances, the law dictates that a petition must be filed within 15 days of the child’s first detention hearing, otherwise they are legally released.
How Does Juvenile Court Differ From Regular Court For An Adult Person?
There are some key differences between adult and juvenile court proceedings in Texas law.
- A parent or guardian must be present during the court hearing – if they are not, a guardian ad litem will be assigned to the child
- A child is not ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’, instead they are found to either be ‘engaged in delinquent conduct’ or not
- The child has the legal right to a jury trial but the state does not have this same right
- Prosecutors are aiming to rehabilitate the child and to protect members of the public, not to explicitly punish
The possible punishments for an offense are also different for juvenile cases. We will explain this in the next section.
How Punishments Differ For Child Offenders
Unlike with adult cases, a child in custody has no minimum or maximum possible sentence within the juvenile court system.
Usually, a child will be punished with one of the following:
- Probation that could last up until the child’s 18th birthday
- Commitment to a Juvenile Justice Department until the child’s 19th birthday
However, further action may be taken if the child in custody committed a particularly egregious offense. If this is the case, the child may be given a determinate sentence or they may be tried as an adult person.
Both of these possible further punishments cannot be given to a child who has only been accused of a misdemeanor crime.
We will explain the differences between a determinate sentence and being tried as an adult in the following two sections.
It is possible that the court may request that the child serve a determinate sentence.
In these cases, the child would be transferred to the adult court or prison system once they have become an adult. However, their initial trial would still take place within the juvenile court system. This means that the maximum term of their punishment would be capped at 40 years.
In order to successfully serve a determinate sentence, it must be proved that the child in question had probable cause to commit the crime they are accused of.
Tried As An Adult
If the child in custody is tried as an adult, the results will likely be more severe than with a determinate sentence.
This is because, as well as being sentenced to an adult facility and court system, they would also stand trial as an adult before they are adjudicated.
This means that a child tried as an adult could receive a life sentence. However, they may not be given life without parole. They are also not eligible for the death penalty.
A child must be at least 15 years old to be tried as an adult, although the state can request that a 14-year-old be tried as an adult if they are accused of a capital offense, a first-degree felony, or an aggravated possession of a controlled substance felony.
If a child is successfully tried as an adult once, it is highly likely that any subsequent offenses will also be automatically tried in the same way.
Law Enforcement Officers May Detain A Child Without Probable Cause
The law differs when it comes to the grounds for arresting a child or an adult person. With children, a police officer does not need to have probable cause in order to take the child into custody.
This means an officer is not subject to the same burden of evidence. They may take a child into custody simply based on suspicion or a hunch that they violated laws or that their group of friends is involved in criminal activity.
This is one of the reasons that parents of a child in this position should be sure to contact an attorney right away, to make absolutely sure that their child has the smallest chance possible of being punished for the simple suspicion of an officer.
How Attorneys Give Parents And Their Child Support During The Legal Process
The support of an experienced attorney is vital when you are the parent of a child in custody.
The following is a list of examples of how an attorney could help a child or their parent in the legal process:
- Returning the child to the custody of their parents as quickly as the law allows
- Highlighting mistreatment by police offers, for example, if they did not give the parents sufficient notice to attend a detention hearing
- Giving the child practical advice to help their case, for example, warning them that anything they say to their friends may be brought up in a witness statement in court
- Providing knowledgeable and experienced reassurance of the correct steps for the process, as well as helping with any admin or bureaucracy
- Building a strong counterargument, collecting evidence, and helping to get opposing evidence
When it comes to a child’s future, securing the right attorney is incredibly important.
They will be able to help you through each step of the case, considering all eventualities and ensuring all the necessary steps are taken to minimize the consequences of the accusations to your child and preserve their childhood and future prospects.
Contact An Attorney On Behalf Of Your Child Today
As a parent, you only want what’s best for your child. If they have allegedly committed a criminal act and are currently being held in custody, the best thing you can do for them is to secure representation by an experienced and reputable lawyer.
This lawyer will be able to ensure that they are treated exactly as the law dictates, as well as fighting to get their charges reduced at every turn. This may result in your child being returned to your care sooner, or avoiding a sentence in a juvenile detention center or worse.