When your child is charged with a crime, you may have a lot of questions: Will my child go to prison? Will they be charged as an adult? Will they have a permanent criminal record that will prevent them from getting a job or into college? What can I do to keep my kid out of jail? When a minor commits a crime, their case is usually handled by the juvenile justice system. The experienced juvenile criminal defense attorneys at Blass Law can help you navigate Texas’ juvenile justice system. Call our office or request a case evaluation online and let’s get started in the fight to defend the rights of your child.
What is the Difference Between the Juvenile and Adult Justice Systems?
The Texas juvenile justice system and the adult justice system each have a different purpose. Texas’s adult penal system is designed to focus on preserving public safety, deterring criminal conduct, and holding accountable those who commit criminal acts. While the juvenile system is also intended to preserve public safety, it has a much greater emphasis on rehabilitation.
Many children and teens who wind up in the juvenile justice system have previously been found to be children in need of services (CHINS) due to abuse or neglect. By focusing on rehabilitation, the juvenile justice system can help connect these minors with the educational, healthcare, and therapeutic services they need to become productive members of society.
This focus on rehabilitation is also evidenced by the fact that juvenile records remain confidential. In most cases, even if a minor is committed to a juvenile detention facility, this delinquency adjudication won’t show up on a criminal background check. This record sealing allows juveniles to have a fresh start at age 18 without losing out on employment or educational opportunities as a result of their juvenile record.
Despite the focus on rehabilitation for minors charged with a crime, the penalties for conviction can include long detention sentences, hefty fines, and rigid probation terms. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the court system will be lenient because the defendant is a minor. You need to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows the Harris County Juvenile Court System and will work to protect your child’s future.
There are two important exceptions to this confidentiality rule, however: juveniles who are required to register as sex offenders or those who serve time in Texas Department of Corrections (TDCJ) after they turn 18 will generally have an adult criminal record as well as a juvenile one. In these cases, an experienced juvenile criminal lawyer may be able to have the records sealed.
Juvenile Justice Process
When a minor is charged with a crime, a referral isn’t always made to the county’s juvenile court. In many cases, these referrals are dealt with informally, and the child is referred to an agency other than the juvenile court. Typically they are referred to a family services agency or a Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) program. Typically no further legal action is taken and the juvenile is returned home or to the custody of a parent or guardian.
But if an officer decides that the juvenile should be charged with delinquent conduct and referred to a juvenile court, the procedure begins to more closely resemble a criminal prosecution. The juvenile is initially taken to the detention facility. It must be confirmed that the child is in fact a “child” as defined by the Texas Family Code. Next they must go before a judge within 48 hours for a probable cause determination. This 48 hour time frame begins when the child is taken into custody, it includes weekends and holidays. Because of this short time frame, it is very important to hire a juvenile criminal defense attorney immediately.
The case will then proceed to an adjudication hearing, in which both the state and the juvenile may present evidence. Like adult criminal defendants, juveniles who are alleged to be delinquent have the power to call and cross-examine witnesses, present documentary evidence in support of their defense, and seek discovery from the prosecution.
Common Juvenile Crimes
Although juvenile offenders may be alleged delinquent for committing any number of criminal acts, many of the offenses that land a minor before the juvenile court fall into four main categories.
Status offenses would not be crimes if they were committed by an adult. They are generally deemed the least serious of all juvenile court offense; however, many status offenses, like truancy, require some level of intervention to ensure that the juvenile is provided with the resources he or she needs to attend school and graduate. Other status offenses that can result in a referral to juvenile court include some alcohol and tobacco violations and running away.
Assault and Battery
Fights on the school playground have been memorialized in hundreds of television shows and movies, but any juvenile who finds themselves involved in a fistfight (or worse) could be referred to the juvenile court on assault charges. An allegation of assault may be made whenever a juvenile intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another; intentionally or knowingly threatens another with imminent bodily injury, including the person’s spouse; or intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative .
Theft can also land a minor before the juvenile court. Because there are dozens of different theft classifications under the Texas Criminal Code, the disposition for a juvenile accused of theft can range from probation (or even dismissal) for shoplifting a low-value item to commitment to the TJJD for robbery or burglary of a habitation.
From spray painting an abandoned building to carving one’s initials into a school desk, vandalism charges tend to be more common among young people, and those under age 18 are no exception. As with theft and other criminal acts, the penalties for vandalism can range widely—and, in some cases, may even include court-ordered community service to clean up or replace the vandalized property.
Other common juvenile crimes include:
- Juvenile drug offenses
- Juvenile DUI
- Juvenile sexual misconduct (sexting, indecent exposure)
- Driving without a license or with a suspended license
- Probation violations
Penalties Minors Convicted of a Crime
If the juvenile is found to be delinquent (or “adjudicated delinquent”), he or she may be placed on probation (often with conditions) or sent to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) for an indeterminate or determinate sentence. Just a few of the factors that go into the juvenile court’s disposition determination include:
- The juvenile’s prior delinquency history;
- The seriousness of the offense;
- The juvenile’s family support;
- The juvenile’s remorse or acceptance of responsibility for his or her conduct; and
- Whether the juvenile has any medical or mental health conditions that may require ongoing treatment.
This disposition model is designed to ensure that juveniles receive the precise amount of intervention deemed necessary to help them become productive, law-abiding adults.
Though juvenile courts aim to rehabilitate minors, the penalties for delinquency can include:
Detention in a juvenile facility until the defendant’s 18th birthday
- Community service hours
- Sex offender registration
Juveniles who are committed to the TJJD for an indeterminate sentence must be discharged on or before their 19th birthday. However, there is no similar discharge requirement for those who are committed for a determinate sentence; instead, they will be transferred to TDCJ (big boy prison).
This means that if someone is adjudicated delinquent at age 17 and committed to the TJJD for an indeterminate period, they’ll be eligible for mandatory release (assuming good conduct) on or before age 19; however, someone adjudicated delinquent with a determinate sentence at age 17 and committed to the TJJD for two years may spend the last year or more of this commitment in an adults-only correctional facility, TCDJ.
In rare circumstances, including serious felony conduct like homicide, the juvenile may be certified as an adult and tried as an adult. This can also happen by the lawyer “waiving” juvenile jurisdiction, however no competent lawyer would do this. During a certification hearing, the juvenile court must list specific findings as to why the juvenile should be tried as an adult.
Juvenile Probation and Juvenile Deferred Adjudication
Many juvenile sentences include probation. A juvenile may be placed on probation for any period of time the juvenile judge deems appropriate but must be discharged from probation on or before his or her 18th birthday. An experienced juvenile crime attorney may secure a deferred adjudication for a client. The conditions of juvenile probation or juvenile deferred adjudication may include:
- Revocation of their driver’s license
- GPS monitoring (ankle monitor)
- Random drug testing
- Monthly probation fees
- Community service
- Participation in counseling or alternative peer group therapy
Contact a Houston Juvenile Defense Attorney
Though the juvenile justice system primarily aims to rehabilitate minors, the rehabilitation process can mean time in detention and long probation for your child. You need a Houston-area juvenile attorney who knows the Harris County juvenile court system. The juvenile criminal lawyers at Blass Law will fight to protect your child’s rights and keep your family together. Don’t gamble with your child’s future by choosing and underqualified, ineffective lawyer, call Blass Law today or request a consultation online.
Texas Juvenile Justice Department