Juvenile Law Overview

When a child gets into trouble, it can be scary not only for the child, but for the parents as well. The Juvenile Justice system in Texas is set up differently than the adult system and the terminology and procedures involved may be confusing. If your child is in need of legal representation because of an arrest or a pending court case, please contact me to help. I am experienced in Juvenile Law and spent a year in the juvenile division of the Bexar County District Attorney’s office. I understand the system from the inside out.

Common Terms

Juvenile – In Texas, a person under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court system is a juvenile. A juvenile is defined as an individual whose 10th birthday has passed but has not yet reached their 17th birthday. Once a person turns 17, they are considered an adult and charged as such.

Petition – a Juvenile in Texas is charged by petition, not indictment or information. A petition is a document that is civil in nature and is filed by the prosecutor if the prosecutor has determined there is probable cause to file the case. Because the prosecutor is acting on behalf of the State of Texas, the State of Texas is the Petitioner.

Respondent – the person charged under a petition is called the Respondent. It is equivalent to the term defendant in the adult system.

Adjudication – In Juvenile, when a child is convicted of an offense, it is not called a conviction, but rather is an adjudication.

Disposition – In Juvenile, when a child is sentenced after a conviction, it is called a disposition, rather than a sentencing. A court must find that a child committed an offense AND is in need of rehabilitation in order to proceed to disposition.

Determinate Sentence – This is reserved for serious crimes that a prosecutor has decided to proceed under the juvenile justice system, rather than seeking transfer to adult court. Determinate sentence petitions must be presented to a grand jury, similar to indictments in the adult system. Typically, the juvenile courts lose jurisdiction over a Respondent once they turn 17, unless the juvenile is committed to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. A Determinate Sentence petition allows a court to sentence a juvenile to a longer term, up to 40 years, which means the juvenile will be transferred to the adult system at the appropriate time for continued supervision.

Certification as an Adult – In cases involving very serious offenses, the prosecutor can file a motion asking the Juvenile court to waive its jurisdiction and transfer the case to adult court. If the court grants the motion, the case then moves to the adult system, although the juvenile continues to be housed within the juvenile facility.

Detention – After a juvenile is arrested, they will go before a judge. There is no bail in the juvenile justice system. Instead, the judge will decide whether to release the child with conditions to a parent or guardian, or whether to continue detaining the child at the juvenile facility. If the judge decides to detain the child, the child must go before the judge every 10 days for another detention hearing to determine whether detention should continue. The judge can only detain a child if it is determined that:

1) he is likely to abscond or be removed from the jurisdiction of the court;

2) suitable supervision, care, or protection for him is not being provided by a parent, guardian, custodian, or other person;

3) he has no parent, guardian, custodian, or other person able to return him to the court when required;

4) he may be dangerous to himself or may threaten the safety of the public if released; or

5) he has previously been found to be a delinquent child or has previously been convicted of a penal offense punishable by a term in jail or prison and is likely to commit an offense if released.

Final Thoughts

Being detained can be scary to a child who just wants to go back to their parents home. I am determined to try to make the process less scary and go smoothly for both the child and the parents. If your child has been arrested or may have an arrest pending, contact me today for a free consultation. Hire someone with experience with the system.