Juveniles in Justice and Municipal Court
When a child, 17 years of age or younger, commits a fine-only misdemeanor, this crime falls under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice court and the justice and municipal court. Cases that fall under the justice and municipal court typically have to do with traffic offenses, a fineable misdemeanor, alcohol violations, tobacco violations, and truancy violations. In any case, a juvenile lawyer can provide guidance through the complex court system.
Taking a Child into Custody
In order to take a child into custody, law enforcement officers or school district peace officers only require probable cause that the child committed the fineable crime in question. In traffic cases, offers will often issue a field release citation rather than taking the child into custody. This citation will contain the charges, the name and address of the accused, and a written notice to appear in court.
When taking a child into custody, law enforcement officials may request the presence of a justice and municipal court judge to read statutory warnings. These warnings are similar to the reading of the Miranda in adult cases. These statutory warnings include:
- The right to remain silent and a notice that any statements made may be used against the child in the court of law
- The right to an attorney before and during questioning
- The right to have an appointed attorney if the child cannot procure one themselves
- The right to end an interview at any time
These rights must be read to the child by a magistrate before they produce any written statements or confessions. In addition, the magistrate must acknowledge that the suspect knowingly and voluntarily waived these rights before giving any written or spoken statements in their presence.
If a child is taken into custody for a crime that is under the jurisdiction of the justice or municipal court, the minor must be escorted to a place of nonsecure custody. This means the location must be an unlocked, multi-purpose area. For example, an office, lobby, or interrogation room typically qualifies as long as it is not designated as a secure detention area. The location is often a juvenile processing office.
Further, while the child is in this place of nonsecure custody, they cannot be physically secured to a chair, desk, cuffing rail, or any other stationary object, and they must remain under continuous visual supervision by a law enforcement officer or staff person.
Lastly, the child cannot be detained for an unnecessary amount of time, or longer than it takes to process them, take them before a judge, or release them to their parents or guardians. Juveniles cannot be detained in a place of nonsecure custody for longer than six hours (§45.058(e), C.C.P.). During this time, they may not be photographed or fingerprinted for a fine-only crime without the approval of a juvenile court (§58.002(a). F.C.)
Prosecuting a Juvenile in Justice or Municipal Court
Both the child and their parent or guardian must be present during all cases that are prosecuted in the justice or municipal court. During criminal cases involving juveniles, the parent or guardian must be present for all court proceedings (§45.0215, C.C.P.) Per the summons, the court will indicate that the parent/guardian must appear in court with their child by law. Failure to appear could result in arrest and the parent/guardian being charged with failure to appear, which is a Class C misdemeanor (§45.057(e) and (g), C.C.P.)
If the child is convicted of a fine-only crime (except for a traffic offense), the court may order the following:
- The court may refer the child or the child’s parents to an early youth intervention program
- The court may require the offender to attend a specialized program catered to their needs, such as rehabilitation, counseling, self-esteem and leadership training, workforce training, job interviews, self-improvement programs, anger-management programs, tutoring, parental responsibilities training, sensitivity training, community service, mentoring and advocacy, restitution, etc.
- The court may create special instructions for the child’s parent/guardian in order to protect their welfare, this may include:
- attending a parenting class/parental responsibilities training program
- attending the child’s classes and other scholastic functions
The law states that a 17-year-old who has been convicted of one fine-only misdemeanor or violation of a penal ordinance can petition to have the conviction removed from their criminal record. This is called a juvenile expunction.
Juvenile Alcohol Violations
Juvenile alcohol violations that do not require confinement fall under justice and municipal courts. Alcohol-related offenses for minors under the legal drinking age include:
- the purchase of alcohol by a minor
- an attempt to purchase
- the consumption of alcohol by a minor
- driving under the influence as a minor
- possession of alcohol as a minor
- the misrepresentation of age to purchase alcohol by a minor
While the first two offenses are fine-only Class C misdemeanors, a minor over the age of 17 who commits the third offense could face a fine between $250-$2,000 or jail for up to 180 days.
If the minor has two or more previous convictions, they are automatically disqualified from receiving deferred dispositions. In this case, the court must transfer the case to a juvenile court.
In addition to a fine, minors convicted of alcohol violations must be ordered to community service for:
- 8-12 hours if they have no previous convictions
- 20-40 if they have a previous conviction
Further, the minor must also attend a TCADA approved alcohol awareness program. The minor must complete this program within 80 days and return to the court with proof of completion. In some cases, this period may be extended. Lastly, the minor’s driver’s license or permit must be suspended for:
- 30 days if they have no previous conviction
- 60 days if they have one previous conviction
- 180 days if they have two previous convictions
Juvenile Tobacco Violations
Minors under the age of 18 are charged with tobacco violations if they possess, purchase, consume, or accept tobacco products, or if they misrepresent their age in order to obtain these products. Starting October 1, 2015, it also became illegal for minors under the age of 18 to possess or use electronic cigarettes.
Third or subsequent tobacco violations cannot be transferred to the juvenile court because these offenses do not fall under the Juvenile Justice Code. All tobacco violations are punishable by a fine under $250. In addition, the court may require the minor and their parent/guardian to attend a tobacco awareness program or conduct community service.
Juvenile Truancy Violations
Truancy, or the failure to attend school, was decriminalized during the 84 th Legislative Session when a new civil procedure was established for “truancy courts.” Attendance is enforceable for students ages 12 to 19 as a civil violation in a truancy court. A juvenile is considered truant when they miss 10 or more days within a six-month period in the same school year.
Students have the right to a jury trial in truancy court, and the student’s parent/guardian must be present for the hearing.
The court may order remedial measures for any convicted juveniles and their parents/guardians. The court may order:
- School with no unexcused absences
- Preparatory classes
- Alcohol/drug awareness programs
- Rehabilitation programs
- Work and job skills training
- Parenting training
- Tutoring, advocacy, and mentoring programs
- 50 hours of community service
Minors who fail to abide to court orders can be ruled in contempt of court and receive a fine under $100 or the suspension of their driver’s license/permit.
You can learn more about the juvenile justice system in Texas by viewing our page on Texas juvenile offenses.