Saturday, February 13, 2010

How Does a Juvenile Get Tried as an Adult in Texas?

In Texas, juveniles (persons under 17) who commit criminal offenses are processed by the Juvenile Court of the appropriate jurisdiction under the Juvenile Justice Code . However, on petition of a prosecuting attorney, if a juvenile has committed certain offenses under the Penal Code, the Juvenile Court may waive its exclusive original jurisdiction and allow the child to be tried as an adult in criminal court. This area of law is governed by the Texas Family Code Section 54.02 and I always recommend that you always consult the code sections rather than relying on my simplified recitation below, but here it is.

Practically speaking, there are several steps in the process before a juvenile may be transferred to criminal court to be tried as an adult.

1. The offense that the child is alleged to have committed must be a Felony. If the child was 14 years old at the time of the alleged offense, the offense must have been no less than a 1st Degree Felony. If the child was at least 15 years old when the alleged offense was committed, any Felony will do. Children UNDER 14 years of age may not be transferred to criminal court until they reach the age of 18 (and if several other provisions are met).

2. The Juvenile Court must conduct a full investigation and a hearing, to determine whether probable cause exists to believe that the child committed the offense alleged. Probable Cause consists of sufficient facts and circumstances to warrant a prudent person to believe that the juvenile committed the offense. The court must also determine, based on the seriousness of the offense alleged or the background of the child, whether the welfare of the community requires criminal proceedings.

3. Prior to the hearing, the Juvenile Court must obtain a complete diagnostic study, social evaluation, and full investigation of the child, his circumstances, and the circumstances of the alleged offense. This study and any other written material to be considered by the Court in making its transfer decision, must be provided to the attorney for the child at least five days before the hearing. (If the Court decides to transfer the case to criminal court, this material will also be provided to the prosecuting attorney for the state--but it is inadmissible as evidence).

4. During the hearing, the Court can consider just about anything--hearsay statements, written assertions, oral testimony, police reports... anything that will help the Court in considering the following four factors:
  • whether the alleged offense was against person or property (more likely to be transferred if the offense is against the person);
  • the sophistication and maturity of the child;
  • the record and previous history of the child; and
  • whether the child can be rehabilitated and the public adequately protected if the Court does not transfer the case and rather uses only those procedures, services, and facilities currently available to juvenile offenders.
 5. If, after receiving all of the information stated above, the Juvenile Court decides to waive its jurisdiction, it must state (in the transfer order) specifically its reasons for the waiver and transfer.

6. The decision of the Juvenile Court to transfer a case to criminal court cannot be immediately appealed as it is a criminal matter. Under Article 44.47 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, a challenge to the certification and transfer order can be made only in conjunction with the appeal of a conviction of or an order of deferred adjudication for the offense for which the child (now adult) was transferred to criminal court.

That is, in a nutshell, how a Juvenile may be tried as an Adult. Okay, maybe it wasn't such a nutshell, but in this area of law it is difficult to be succinct.

For more juvenile justice matters see also: The State Bar of Texas Citizen's Guide to the Texas Criminal Justice Process, HERE.