Juvenile law differs from adult criminal law in Texas substantially, including the additional protections for juveniles to ensure they receive fair treatment in the criminal justice system. It is essential that children, adolescents, and their parents are aware of Texas juvenile rights and how they could impact a case.
In some instances, minors are afforded certain protections and typically more lenient penalties through the juvenile justice system. However, juveniles and parents should also be aware of law enforcement’s ability to question a minor without parental knowledge in some situations and detain them without a warrant.
If charged, the good news is that most Texas juvenile criminal records are automatically restricted and can be sealed. However, there is a time restriction associated with sealing a record, and at such a crucial point in a young person’s life, they can’t always afford to have a conviction hindering their access to opportunities.
The Love DuCote Law Firm LLC empathizes with juveniles and their parents who are facing the daunting prospect of juvenile justice proceedings. Our knowledgeable juvenile defense attorneys understand the impact a conviction can have on not only a child’s future and opportunities but also on their reputation, self-worth, and confidence.
If represented by The Love DuCote Law Firm LLC, you can rest assured that your child’s case is in professional, empathetic, and highly skilled hands. To discuss juvenile rights in Texas and potential defense strategies, schedule a free initial consultation by calling our legal team at 832-843-1691.
Who Is Classed As A Juvenile In Texas?
In Texas, once a child turns 10 years old, they can be charged with criminal offenses through the juvenile court system. An individual remains a juvenile in the eyes of the law and will be charged in the juvenile justice system until they reach 17 years of age. Although technically still a minor under some statutes, in Texas criminal law, 17 is the age of legal maturity. As such, a 17-year-old will be considered an adult and charged in the adult criminal justice system.
Common Juvenile Crimes In Texas
It is not uncommon for juveniles to challenge boundaries and act out as they grow up. Unfortunately, the nature of young people is that they are often easily influenced by their peers and those around them. However, a seemingly harmless mistake can result in a juvenile crime and carry significant consequences for that child and their future.
Juvenile crimes that are commonplace in Texas include the following:
- Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
- Disturbing the peace
- Disorderly conduct
- School violations
- False identification
- Possession of a controlled substance
- Simple assault
- Juvenile sex crimes
Texas Juvenile Law – The Basics
Texas law acknowledges the vulnerability of juveniles and the importance of early intervention in delinquent behavior that may not equate to an adult crime. As such, a juvenile can be detained for behavior that law enforcement typically would not detain an adult for, such as truancy and violating school conduct.
Arresting A Juvenile
In Texas, law enforcement can take a juvenile into custody under four main categories. An officer can detain a minor if they have probable cause to believe the individual:
- Violated a criminal law.
- Disobeyed a court-ordered condition of their probation.
- Engaged in conduct indicating the need for supervision.
- Engaged in delinquent conduct.
The definitions of both conduct indicating the need for supervision and delinquent conduct are outlined in the Texas Family Code. Conduct indicating the need for supervision could include voluntary absence from the home without parental consent, violation of a school district code of conduct, inhaling paint fumes, fine-only misdemeanors, and sharing certain visual material that includes minors.
Delinquent conduct is defined as any conduct that violates a state or federal penal law punishable by jail time, not including traffic offenses.
As opposed to adults, a law enforcement officer is not required to obtain an arrest warrant to detain a juvenile into police custody. Once in custody, a juvenile should be processed in a juvenile processing office instead of a standard adult custody department. The juvenile’s parent or guardian must be informed of the arrest and the justification for taking the child into custody as soon as reasonably possible.
To detain a juvenile, an initial detention hearing must be held within 48 hours of being in custody. In the hearing, a juvenile court Judge will evaluate whether the individual understands their legal rights, then further detention will be approved or denied. A parent or guardian must be given reasonable notice of the hearing beforehand. The court will appoint a guardian for the hearing if no parent or guardian is located. They also have the right to legal counsel for all detention hearings.
Unless one of the below criteria is satisfied, the juvenile must be released from detention:
- The child has no parent, guardian, or custodian to return the child to court as required
- They are likely to run away or be removed from the court’s jurisdiction
- The child has no suitable supervision, care, or protection provided by a parent, guardian, or another adult
- They have a history of juvenile delinquency or previous criminal offenses that are punishable by jail time or are likely to commit an offense if released from custody
- The juvenile is a threat to public safety if released or a danger to themselves
An individual may be released with certain conditions imposed on them or their parents by the court. If detained further, a detention hearing must be held in juvenile court every 10 days to review the justification for continued detainment.
Texas Juvenile Charges
Although minors can be charged with the same criminal charges as adults, the process of charging a juvenile in Texas differs from the adult system. For example, both a child and their parent or guardian must be served with a summons and a court petition outlining the criminal allegations against the juvenile.
The state has strict deadlines to file a petition of criminal allegations with the court. If the child is in custody, the state must file the petition within 30 days from the initial detention hearing for a first-degree felony, capital felony, and aggravated controlled substance felony offenses. The juvenile must be released from custody if the petition is not filed within this time. For any other offenses or probation violations, the state must file within 15 working days of the initial hearing.
Juvenile charges differ further from adult charges as they are not presented before a grand jury for indictment.
Juveniles In The Court Process
When a child appears in the juvenile courts, they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. If a parent or guardian cannot attend the hearing, the court will appoint a guardian for the purpose of protecting the child’s interests during the court process.
Juvenile court differs from adult court whereby the terms ‘not guilty’ and ‘guilty’ are not used. A juvenile may enter a plea of ‘true’ or ‘false’ to the allegations presented at their hearing. One of the main focuses of the juvenile justice system is to encourage rehabilitation and discourage the continuation of criminal acts into adulthood. As such, the court process for a juvenile crime can look very different from adult criminal court.
A juvenile offender convicted of a crime will typically, but not always, face lesser penalties than an adult convicted of the same crime. Most convictions in criminal court do not carry mandatory minimum or maximum sentences, and these can be decided at the discretion of the Judge. Typical penalties in juvenile court include a commitment to the juvenile probation department, detention, fines, and driver’s license suspensions.
For more serious felony crimes such as first-degree possession of a controlled substance, murder, aggravated assault, and sexual assault, the court may take a different approach to penalties. For eligible crimes, the juvenile court may impose a determinate sentence, which can carry up to 40 years in prison. Alternatively, the juvenile court may waive jurisdiction over the case. The case would then transfer to adult court, whereby the juvenile would be tried as an adult and face more severe adult penalties.
The Rights Of Juveniles In The Texas Criminal Justice System – A Summary
The Texas juvenile justice system differs from the adult criminal justice system in many ways. The focus is firmly on rehabilitation, and the Texas Family Code outlines strict procedures for arresting, detaining, and charging a juvenile that must be adhered to.
To summarize, the basic differences in rights for juveniles as opposed to adults in the criminal justice system include the following:
- Parents or guardians must be informed of a minor’s detention in custody
- If arrested, a juvenile must be processed in a juvenile processing office within a police custody department
- An initial detention hearing must be held within 48 hours of entering custody
- Juveniles must be accompanied by a parent or guardian in court hearings
- Juveniles have the right to legal counsel at all detention hearings
- If detained for an extended period of time, a detention hearing must be held every 10 days to establish whether their detention is still necessary
Can A Juvenile Be Tried As An Adult In Texas Courts?
In the Texas criminal justice system, juveniles over the age of 14 can be tried as adults in adult court for certain crimes. If a child has committed a serious felony, they may be charged as an adult and face the same penalties as an adult would. The only exception to adult penalties for a minor is that they will not face the possibility of life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
It is not common for a juvenile to be tried in adult court, but it is a possibility. A Judge may use a judicial waiver to transfer a juvenile into the adult criminal justice system if their criminal background justifies prosecution in the adult courts and there is probable cause to believe the child committed the offense.
An extensive history of previous offenses can increase the likelihood of a child being tried as an adult. In most circumstances, a child will not be tried as an adult if the offense was committed before they turned 15. However, if a juvenile aged 14 or older commits a capital offense, such as a first-degree felony or an aggravated controlled substance felony, they may face trial as an adult in Texas. Typically juvenile offenders face less harsh penalties than adults. As such, it is always in their best interests to be tried as a juvenile in the juvenile system where possible.
What Is The Texas Juvenile Justice Code?
The Texas Juvenile Justice Code lies within the Texas Family Code. It outlines statutes and procedures specific to the juvenile justice system and the rights of juveniles in relation to criminal offenses. The code includes specifics on arresting and detaining juveniles and court hearings.
Can Juvenile Convictions Be Sealed In Texas?
One purpose of the Texas juvenile justice department is to, where appropriate, “remove the taint of criminality from children committing certain unlawful acts”. As such, many juvenile criminal records can be sealed to remove the impact a juvenile criminal history may have on an individual’s future. Not all convictions are eligible to be sealed. This depends on the nature of the crime and the individual’s continued criminal history. Those tried in adult court or registered sex offenders cannot have their criminal records sealed.
Once a juvenile turns 17 years old in Texas, their juvenile criminal record is automatically restricted, which means only certain parties, such as law enforcement agencies, can access the records. However, a restricted record does not mean it no longer exists or is sealed. Some employers and organizations, such as federal agencies and probation officers, can access restricted records. Similarly, if a conviction is not sealed, an individual may be required to report their juvenile criminal convictions when applying for school, financial aid, employment, or professional licenses.
However, many juvenile convictions can be sealed. Once sealed, no one can access that record. To be eligible to seal a record, 2 years must have passed since the adjudication or since the juvenile was discharged. Additionally, they must not have been convicted of a crime or engaged in delinquent conduct in that 2-year period. Felony records could be sealed once the individual is 19 years old, provided they have not received any further felony convictions.
Sealing a juvenile criminal record is essential for allowing a young person to move on from their offense and work towards a brighter future. However, it is possible that a prosecutor could object to record sealing. Sometimes, the process of record sealing can be complicated, and legal counsel is advised. Contact a juvenile law attorney to discuss eligibility and begin the process of sealing past juvenile convictions.
Can A Juvenile Be Transferred To Adult Prison?
If an individual is serving a juvenile sentence in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, they will have a specific time period they must serve, and potentially mandatory training they must complete before their release. If the individual has not completed their sentence or training before they turn 19, they may be transferred to adult prison.
An offender cannot remain in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department past their 19th birthday. However, a transfer hearing can be requested any time after their 16th birthday. An attorney may be able to negotiate parole for the remainder of the sentence as opposed to a transfer to an adult correctional facility.
The Love DuCote Law Firm LLC Juvenile Defense Attorneys
Although juveniles have specific rights under Texas juvenile law, there are many nuances and exemptions. As such, the juvenile justice system can be complex to navigate alone. As a parent, the thought of your child facing criminal charges can be overwhelming, but skilled legal advice can help.
The Love DuCote Law Firm LLC attorneys are experts in juvenile law and criminal defense, and we work with parents and their child to support them through the juvenile justice system. Our goal is to ensure a juvenile’s rights are respected, that they have access to parents and legal counsel and that they are not detained away from their family unnecessarily. We will work diligently to have charges dismissed or reduced where possible, negotiate lesser penalties, and seal criminal records to minimize the impact of criminal proceedings on a child’s life and future opportunities.