A Guide to Juvenile Offenses Tried by a Juvenile Court in Texas
In the state of Texas, roughly 130,000 children enter the juvenile justice system each year. Some will be let off with a warning, others put on probation, and a small fraction of those children will be transferred out of juvenile court and tried as adults – the type of punishment depends on the act of juvenile delinquency committed.
There are two types of offenses that can place a youth under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court – CINS and delinquent conduct. This guide will cover the specific offenses that fall into each category and explain the different ways the Texas Juvenile Justice Department handles these cases.
Conduct indicating a need for supervision, more commonly referred to as CINS, is the less serious of the two types of behavior punishable by the juvenile court. CINS is any offense (excluding traffic offenses) that would not cause an adult person to go to jail or prison but would only require them to pay a fine.
Most CINS cases are status offenses, which is any conduct that, if committed by an adult, would not be a crime. Examples of status offenses include truancy (skipping school), sexting, running away from home, and certain alcohol-related offenses.
Other examples of CINS offenses tried by the Texas juvenile court system include:
- Inhalant abuse (paint/glue)
- School expulsion for violating a district’s student code of conduct
- Violation of Child-at- Risk court order
- Any fineable offense
Status offenses and other CINS cases do not result in a child being sentenced to the TJJD (The Texas Juvenile Justice Department). Instead, the offender is put on a level of probation, depending on the type of CINS offense they’ve committed, their past behavior, home life, and conduct in school.
Delinquent Conduct Cases
Delinquent conduct offenses are more serious than CINS cases. If a judge or jury in an adjudication hearing proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the child has engaged in delinquent conduct, the juvenile will typically be placed on probation or committed to TJJD.
Examples of delinquent conduct under Texas state law include:
- Driving, flying, or boating while intoxicated
- Third offense driving with a detectable amount of alcohol in the minor’s system
- Court order violations
- Intoxication assault/manslaughter
- Sex offenses
- Any felony offenses
In the case of a severe felony charge such as sexual assault, murder, or arson, the juvenile court may choose to seek a determinate sentence, or even the transfer of the juvenile offender to an adult criminal court.
What Is Determinate Sentencing?
For the most part, juvenile offenders are only under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system for a limited period of time. For instance, a child placed on probation ends that probation before their 18th birthday, and a child who is committed to the TJJD is released before their 19th birthday.
But in the case of determinate sentencing, a child charged with a first-degree felony can receive a term of up to 40 years. Second degree felonies can result in up to 20 years, and third-degree felonies have a maximum sentence of 10 years. For a juvenile offender to receive a determinate sentence, the prosecuting attorney must first seek petition approval from a grand jury.
A juvenile is likely to receive a determinate sentence if they’ve been charged with one of the following serious criminal offenses:
- Aggravated assault, robbery, or kidnapping
- Aggravated controlled substance felony
- Attempted murder
- Capital murder
- Criminal solicitation
- Criminal solicitation of a minor
- Felony deadly conduct
- Injury to a child, elderly person, or disabled individual
- Intoxicated manslaughter
- Sexual assault/aggravated sexual assault
When deciding whether or not a juvenile will receive a determinate sentence, habitual felony conduct must also be taken into account. A habitual felony is a felony committed by a juvenile with a record of at least two previous felonies.
Certification of a Juvenile as an Adult
In rare cases where a serious felony charge is involved, the juvenile justice system can waive its jurisdiction and transfer a case to an adult criminal court. That means that the offender, regardless of age, will be treated as an adult and receive the same punishments as any other adult defendant.
In order for a juvenile court to waive its jurisdiction, one of the following must apply to the case:
- The juvenile is at least 14 years of age at the time of the offense and there is probable cause to believe a first-degree felony, capital felony, or aggravated control substance felony was committed.
- The juvenile is at least 15 years of age at the time of the offense and there is probable cause to believe a second or third-degree felony was committed.
- The person is 18 years of age or older and is alleged to have committed an eligible felony offense as a juvenile between the ages of 14 and 17 or murder/capital murder as a juvenile between the ages of 10 and 17.
Once the certification of a juvenile as an adult is done and the case is transferred to an adult criminal court, any future felonies committed will have to be tried in adult court as well, regardless of the child’s age.
For a prosecuting attorney to seek certification of a juvenile as an adult, a transfer hearing must be held. Transfer hearings in juvenile court do not have a jury. The following factors are taken into account during a transfer hearing:
- The maturity of the juvenile offender
- Previous record (habitual felonies)
- The child’s potential threat to the public
- The likelihood that the child will be successfully rehabilitated through the juvenile justice system
If the court decides to go through with the certification, the prosecuting attorney is still required to seek an indictment from a grand jury in order to complete the process.
Life after Juvenile Court
At the end of the day, the purpose of the juvenile justice system is to make sure that juvenile delinquency doesn’t turn into adult crime later on. All children deserve the chance to lead productive and law-abiding adult lives, which is why a combination of accountability, public protection, and rehabilitation are so integral to the juvenile justice system.
Being tried in juvenile court isn’t easy for any child or parent to go through, but the goal is always to produce a positive outcome for everyone involved.
You can learn more about the juvenile justice system in Texas by viewing our page on juvenile defense in Texas.