The juvenile justice system in Texas works under the principle of rehabilitating young offenders instead of subjecting them to the same punishments as adults. However, there are some circumstances in which teens can be charged as adults, typically based on the severity of the alleged crime, their age, and other factors.
These circumstances are outlined in the Texas Family Code. A teen can be tried as an adult if they’re facing criminal charges such as murder, aggravated sexual assault, and certain drug crimes. If you’re concerned about your teen being tried as an adult following an arrest, it benefits you to have a criminal defense lawyer in Dallas. Being convicted of any crime at a young age could change the trajectory of your child’s life forever.
Teens Can Be Charged as Adults in Texas
Keeping your child out of the adult court system in Texas is important for several reasons. Firstly, the juvenile justice system is designed to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment, offering more opportunities for counseling, education, and support. Your child could benefit from these resources and make much-needed changes as necessary.
Also, a conviction in adult court can have long-lasting consequences for a young person’s future, including limited educational and employment opportunities. What’s more, there aren’t separate jails or prisons for younger offenders. If convicted, they will be incarcerated alongside offenders double their age.
The State Could Charge a Juvenile With These Crimes
Per the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, a juvenile is someone between the ages of 10 to 16 years old. Texas is one of only four states that automatically prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults.
Juveniles are punished based on the severity of their crimes and their criminal record. Common juvenile crimes include:
Larceny involves stealing items, such as from friends, family members, and retail stores. The penalties for juvenile larceny can vary depending on the value of the stolen items and the juvenile’s prior criminal record. Common penalties may include probation, community service, restitution to the victim, or placement in a juvenile detention center.
Vandalism may involve defacing restrooms, painting graffiti, or inflicting damage to bikes, cars, or other items. This crime may lead to a $500 fine or even more, depending on the cost of repairing the damage. The more severe the vandalism, the more likely it is to result in juvenile detention.
Fighting with classmates, teachers, and family can result in an assault charge. This can have consequences such as probation, mandatory counseling, community service, or juvenile detention. In more serious cases, teens may be transferred to adult court and face harsher penalties, including incarceration.
Drug and Alcohol-Related Offenses
Simple drug possession can come with fines and a term in juvenile detention. Teens caught engaging in underage drinking or related offenses may be punished with the loss of their driver’s license and fines. In more severe cases, such as drug trafficking or driving under the influence (DUI), juveniles may face felony charges and possible long incarcerations either in a detention center or an adult prison.
What Happens if a Juvenile Is Prosecuted as an Adult?
For extremely serious or violent offenses, a juvenile court may waive its jurisdiction over a teen and transfer the case to adult criminal court. According to Tex. Fam. Code – FAM § 54:
- A 14-year-old can be placed in the adult criminal justice system if they allegedly committed (1) a capital felony, (2) a first-degree felony, or (3) an aggravated controlled substance felony.
- A 15-year-old can be placed in the adult criminal justice system if they have allegedly committed a second-degree or third-degree felony or a state jail felony.
Teens in these cases may be subjected to the same penalties as adults. In addition to age, the juvenile court evaluates other factors before deciding whether to transfer a teen to the adult justice system, including:
- The teen’s level of maturation and sophistication
- The teen’s previous record
- Whether the teen is thought to pose a danger to the public
- The likelihood that the juvenile can be rehabilitated
Just like an adult, the prosecutor must still pursue an indictment against the teen from a grand jury. The case will be dismissed if the grand jury does not return with an indictment and the case is not transferred back to juvenile court.
Defendants Have the Right to Partner With Criminal Defense Lawyers
Many of the same strategies used to defend adults can be used to help teens. However, these cases are unique because if there was a transfer hearing to decide whether the teen should be tried as an adult, their criminal defense attorney could challenge this decision.
For example, an attorney may argue that the teen is better served by remaining in the juvenile justice system. They could also advocate for a juvenile-specific sentence and suggest other alternatives to adult prison that consider their young age and potential for reform.
What Are the Defenses to Juvenile Crimes in Texas?
Defenses to juvenile crimes in Texas include lack of intent, self-defense, and mistaken identity. Additionally, a lawyer might contend that the minor was acting under the influence of others when they committed the crime. Some common defenses include the following:
- Arguing that law enforcement did not collect evidence legally or follow the proper procedures during their investigation
- Proving that the teenager did not commit the crime or had an alibi
- Demonstrating that the young person who committed the crime is remorseful and has no criminal history
It is crucial to note that each case is unique, and the defense strategy will depend on the specific circumstances surrounding the alleged crime.
Contact the Law Offices of Randall B. Isenberg for Legal Help
Are you concerned that your teen will be charged as an adult? Contact the criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Randall B. Isenberg to discuss your teen’s case and explore a defense strategy. We will thoroughly analyze the evidence, interview witnesses, and challenge any violations of your teen’s rights.
We understand the unique complexities of juvenile cases and will work tirelessly to protect your teen’s future and secure a fair outcome. Reach out to our legal team today for a confidential case review.