Understanding Juvenile Violent Crimes in Texas
How do charges involving teen violence differ from adult criminal charges in Houston, TX?
The December 2019 case of a college student being stabbed to death in New York City shows that minors can be arrested and charged just as adults are, though not necessarily with the same consequences. It also brings to mind the importance of understanding juvenile violent crimes in Texas.
In the New York case, a 13-year-old was arrested and charged with second degree murder, robbery and a weapons-related charge regarding murdered Barnard College student Tessa Majors, according to NBC News. However, the teen has not been charged as an adult.
Texas laws on juvenile violent crimes
Each state has different laws when it comes to juvenile crimes, including violent crimes. In Texas, a person who is at least 10 years old and is under 18 years old can be charged in a juvenile court (as opposed to an adult court) with a variety of crimes, from a Class C misdemeanor all the way up to capital murder. But such persons are charged as juveniles, not as adults.
After a person becomes 18 years old in Texas, he or she is legally considered to be an adult, and a criminal charge would be handled in an adult court.
Children who are younger than 10 years old are not considered to be juveniles in Texas. Rather, they are deemed to lack the capacity to have criminal intent.
Juvenile criminal law in Texas is a complex field.
As the Texas District and County Association (TDCAA) says, juvenile law cases “differ greatly from adult criminal cases.”
Juvenile offender rehabilitation
One of the distinctions is that Texas juvenile law is designed to provide not just protection for the public but also to provide “treatment, training and rehabilitation that emphasize the accountability and responsibility of both the parent and the child for the child’s conduct,” according to the Juvenile Justice Code.
This code holds that the juvenile system is designed “to remove, where appropriate, the taint of criminality from children committing certain unlawful acts.” To this end, juveniles may have their criminal records sealed.
As the TDCAA points out, while the Texas Penal Code governs both adult and juvenile criminal offenses, the Juvenile Justice Code (contained within the Texas Family Code under Title Three) “sets forth vital statutes on arrest procedures, hearings and dispositions specific to the juvenile system.”
Police or other law enforcement officers can take a juvenile into custody if they have probable cause to believe the juvenile violated a criminal law, engaged in delinquent conduct or conduct indicating a need for supervision, or violated a court-ordered condition of probation.
According to Family Code §51.03(a), “delinquent conduct” is any conduct (other than a traffic offense) which violates a state or federal penal law that is punishable by imprisonment or jail time.
Law enforcement officers are not required to get an arrest warrant for a juvenile as they would in the adult criminal system. But an officer in Texas may decide to obtain a juvenile arrest warrant, called a “Directive to Apprehend,” which is comparable to an adult arrest warrant, especially when jurisdictional questions may arise.
After a juvenile is arrested and taken into custody, he or she must be delivered without unnecessary delay directly to a juvenile processing office. Also, the juvenile’s parent or guardian must be notified of this promptly and made aware of the reason for it.
Within 48 hours after the accused juvenile is taken into custody, including holidays and weekends, a magistrate or court must conduct a detention hearing. This hearing will determine if the accused will be released or detained until his or her court appearance.
If the juvenile is kept in detention, a detention hearing must be held every 10 days after that to determine if continued detention is warranted.
At any detention hearing, the juvenile has a right to counsel — that is, a right to be represented by a criminal defense lawyer.
If the court releases the juvenile, it can impose conditions akin to bond conditions set on a defendant in an adult court. However, unlike in adult courts, there is no bail system in juvenile courts.
The conditions imposed for release can apply to the parents, not just the juvenile. They can require that the parents help the juvenile with his or her court-ordered conditions.
A criminal charge against a juvenile in Texas must be filed as a petition in a court which has jurisdiction over juveniles. The petition must state the age of the accused to establish that the court has jurisdiction over the juvenile. The name and address of the juvenile’s parent or guardian must also be included in the petition.
The juvenile, referred to as the “respondent,” must be served with the summons and the allegations in the petition filed by the state, or the “petitioner,” and service must be made on the juvenile’s parent or guardian.
A juvenile charge is not presented before a grand jury for indictment.
The Texas Family Code provides deadlines for the timeliness of filing a petition. For a detained juvenile, the state has just 30 days after the initial detention hearing to file a petition alleging a capital felony, an aggravated controlled substance felony or a first-degree felony. If the petition is not filed within 30 days, the detained juvenile must be released from custody.
For any other offenses or for violations of probation, the petition must be filed by the 15th working day after the initial detention hearing.
Juvenile court proceedings
A juvenile who appears in juvenile court must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. If a parent or guardian does not attend, the court will appoint a guardian to protect the juvenile’s interests.
Just as in any criminal court in Texas, if any allegations against the juvenile are contested, the judge or a jury will decide if the juvenile committed the alleged criminal offense. If the juvenile offender doesn’t contest the charge, then he or she can enter a plea of “true” to the allegations, which is comparable to a plea of guilty.
The terms “guilty” and “not guilty” are not applied in Texas’ juvenile court.
If found guilty of an offense, the finding will be that the juvenile has “engaged in delinquent conduct” and “needs rehabilitation.”
Unlike punishments which are determined in adult courts, juvenile courts don’t have minimum or maximum sentences.
For example, an adult who is found guilty of aggravated robbery can face 5 to 99 years in prison, or life in prison. A juvenile who is convicted of the same offense could face commitment to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department until his or her 19th birthday, or placement on probation lasting until his or her 18th birthday.
An exception for juveniles is “determinate sentences.” These are handed down when a felony crime is so severe that particularly strong punishment is needed. A determinate sentence can set a punishment range of up to 40 years.
Also, a juvenile’s determinate sentence punishment could be transferred to an adult court or an adult prison. The juvenile court could waive its jurisdiction over the juvenile and certify the juvenile as an adult.
A juvenile who has been certified as an adult would face punishment in an adult facility and could face a life sentence with parole eligibility. Such a certified juvenile is not subject to the death penalty or punishment of a life sentence without parole.
Was your teen charged with a crime? You need an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer
As you can see, although criminal offenses in the juvenile system are the same as in the adult system, the legal approaches and procedures can vary greatly. Even so, juvenile violent crimes in Texas are serious matters which can have serious consequences.
If someone in your family faces a charge for a juvenile violent crime in Houston, Harris County, Fort Bend County of Montgomery County, you should get a skilled criminal defense lawyer to handle your family’s case.
Juveniles have a legal right to counsel, just as adults do. Experienced criminal defense lawyer Neal Davis can fight to protect your young family member’s legal rights.