Texas Juvenile Justice System: The Process
Being involved with the juvenile justice system is something that most people hope to never need to deal with. However, if you do become entangled with this system, understanding the process helps you to have the best chance of being equipped for the situation you might find yourself in.
Here is everything you can expect to encounter in the juvenile justice system in Texas:
The juvenile system is designed to deal with children who have broken the law. Therefore, naturally, the first step involves defining a “child” and determining if it truly is the juvenile system that should deal with their infractions.
Here are the two ways a person can be considered a “child” in this situation:
- Be 10 years old or older and under 17 years of age
- Be 17 years old or older, but 18, and also alleged to have engaged in criminal conduct or conduct indicating they are in need of supervision prior to turning 17.
In most cases, a court does not have the authority to deal with a juvenile case after a person has turned 18. At the same time, children on the other end of the spectrum and under the age of 10 cannot be prosecuted for committing crimes. Instead, DFPS may provide services for children who are as young as 7 years old who are at risk for finding themselves in troubling situations.
Getting Reported to Law Enforcement
The juvenile justice system process often begins when parents, community officials, school personnel, or other concerned citizens contact the local law enforcement agency. From there, local law enforcement typically responds and serves as intermediaries and refer the child in question to the juvenile justice system. These law enforcement officials have several options they can utilize, depending on the severity of the situation.
Warning Notices: If the offense is minor, an office might decide to issue a warning notice rather than taking them into custody. When this happens, a copy of the warning notice will also be sent to the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian. Law enforcement is prohibited from issuing warnings warning notices or citations when the offense happens in a school setting. However, this does not mean that law enforcement can’t take the child into custody for school-based offenses.
Custody: An officer may choose to take a child into custody, in which they will transport the child to a juvenile processing office. At this point, the juvenile can be held for as much as 6 hours. They can only be detained for the following:
- Returning the child to a parent or other adult
- Completion of necessary records and forms
- Fingerprinting and photographing, if authorized
- Issuance of a warning
- Taking a statement
The exception to this rule is if an officer chooses to take a child into custody to return them to their school campus for the remainder of the day.
A child can make their confession either as a written statement or as a recorded statement. The child must first receive warnings of their rights, so they are aware of their situation. They must waive these rights before making and when giving their statement. In the case of a recorded statement, this waiver of rights must be contained in the recording itself.
Fingerprinting and Photographing
A child is not allowed to be fingerprinted or photographed without the juvenile court’s consent, unless the child has been involved with law enforcement for a felony or misdemeanor eligible for jail time. Exceptions include if a parent or guardian has consented, or if the purpose of the fingerprints is to obtain an ID or driver’s license, or to file a missing child report.
Files and Records
The files and records that concern juveniles and their actions are unable to be disclosed to the public. They are kept separate from the files and records of adults. However, the parent or guardian or the child themselves may inspect the copy concerning them – but all information concerning other juveniles is first redacted.
If a child’s case is referred to juvenile court, the officer responsible must do one of the following:
- Release the child to a parent or adult who will bring them to court
- Bring the child to the juvenile board, designated detention facility, or medical facility
From there, an intake officer makes the preliminary investigation to ensure the person is a “child” and that there is probable cause to bring them court. This must happen within 48 hours, including holidays and weekends. After this is done, the child must be released except when the law requires detention. Conditions of release typically include ensuring the child will appear in court.
Those who have committed less serious offenses may have deferred prosecution and instead opt for rehabilitation, counselling, a class, restoration of property, etc. This takes places of formal adjudication.
Right to Legal Counsel
Like any person, a child has the right to legal counsel. If the child’s family chooses not to, the court will appoint an attorney prior to their initial detention hearing. The juvenile’s attorney will appear for all subsequent hearings.
In court, if charges are filed against a child, a probation officer must investigate the child’s home, behavior, school life, and social relationships. The report provided helps the judge in sentencing.
Disposition and Sentencing
A separate hearing will be held for the disposition or sentencing of a juvenile. This includes both rehabilitation and punishment of the offender. The purpose of this is to protect the public and provide treatment, training, and rehabilitation of the child to provide them with accountability and responsibility. This hearing does not have a right to a jury, except in determinate sentencing cases.
After the Disposition Hearing
After the disposition hearing takes place, a child may be placed on probation, depending on their situation. The court may also instead choose other alternatives to apply to the child. Court decisions that involve juveniles are able to be appealed and are able to be carried up to the Texas Supreme Court.
A juvenile may be placed on probation in their home or the home of another responsible adult. The terms of the probation may require a child to attend school, follow curfews, attend counseling sessions, participate in specific programs, and make restitution through things such as community service.
You can learn more about the juvenile justice system in Texas by viewing our page on juvenile defense in Texas.