Facing criminal charges can be frightening and overwhelming, especially for children. As a parent, you may be unsure what to expect or the severity of the charges your child is facing.

When a child is charged with a crime in Texas, they are subject to special procedures and rules. Children have the same legal rights as adults when facing criminal charges, but these cases are heard in juvenile court. While the penalties are not as harsh as sentences for adults as the system is designed to rehabilitate and prevent adult criminal behavior, your child can still face detention and other consequences.

The following are answers to commonly asked questions about juvenile crimes in Texas and the juvenile court system. If you have additional questions or concerns about your child’s case, contact the Edgett Law Firm for a free consultation with a Dallas juvenile crimes lawyer.

What is Juvenile Delinquency in Texas?

Texas Family Code Section 51.03 defines delinquent juvenile conduct as behavior that could result in criminal penalties. This includes:

  • Anything in violation of Texas criminal law that is punishable by a jail or prison sentence. This includes Class B misdemeanors.
  • Acts that would be in violation of a court order or contempt of court and punishable by a fine.
  • Acts that would be considered a driving while intoxicated or DWI offense. If the juvenile commits a third or subsequent DUI offense while a minor, they have committed delinquent conduct. 

In Texas, juveniles can also be penalized if they engage in behavior that indicates a need for supervision. This can include not attending school, violating a school conduct policy, or running away.

What Types of Charges Does Juvenile Court Handle?

Juveniles under 18 can be charged with a range of misdemeanor and felony criminal offenses in Texas juvenile court. While children accused of serious crimes are usually charged as adults, teens may face the following types of charges:

  • Drug-related crimes. This includes juvenile possession of drugs or alcohol, possession of drugs or alcohol on school grounds, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of marijuana.
  • Traffic offenses. This includes hit and run, driving with a suspended license, reckless driving, and other offenses that might land them in traffic court.
  • Violent crimes. Examples include assault and battery, aggravated assault, and unlawful possession of a firearm.
  • Sex crimes. This can include lewd and lascivious behavior, sexual assault, and indecent exposure.
  • Juvenile theft and property crimes such as arson, shoplifting, theft, and vandalism. 

When your child is facing a criminal charge in Texas, it’s important to consult with a Plano defense lawyer who has experience representing clients in the juvenile justice system.

Texas law prohibits juveniles from possessing alcohol. A minor in possession of alcohol (MIP) offense may be charged if a minor possesses alcohol with no legal justification. This is usually a Class C misdemeanor.

Juvenile driving while intoxicated (DWI) is also a Class C misdemeanor for a first offense. This may be charged if a minor is operating a car while under the influence of any amount of alcohol that can be detected. There is no acceptable blood alcohol concentration for minors.

Juveniles may also be charged with public intoxication for being in a public place while under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the extent they may hurt themselves or someone else. This is also a Class C misdemeanor for a first offense.

What are the Potential Penalties of Juvenile Delinquency?

While minors are not convicted in juvenile court, adjudication can have long-lasting consequences for your child. Potential penalties may include:

  • A criminal record
  • Suspended driver’s license and loss of driving privileges
  • Incarceration in a state juvenile detention facility
  • Inability to participate in some educational programs or colleges
  • Ineligibility for some jobs
  • Restitution
  • Fines
  • Counseling
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Community service
  • Home confinement
  • Probation 

However, these penalties are not certainties. The purpose of the juvenile system in Texas is to rehabilitate minors and redirect criminal behavior before a minor’s behavior places them in adult criminal court. This means one of the goals of the system is to remove the smear of a criminal record from children when possible.

A Plano criminal defense lawyer will seek to have your child enrolled in a juvenile offenders program, deferred adjudication, or other alternatives to avoid a criminal record.

Are There Alternative Penalties for Juvenile Crimes?

Your child may qualify for an alternative penalty outside the juvenile court. These alternatives can avoid some of the harshest juvenile penalties, including a juvenile criminal record.

Drug court is one option for first-time and minor drug offenders. Participation is voluntary, and the goal is to reduce substance abuse and related delinquent behavior through treatment, education, family support, and intervention.

Deferred prosecution is also an option. This is a very common outcome in a juvenile case in which charges are essentially dropped in exchange for the minor serving probation. A minor can be placed on deferred prosecution by the juvenile court, probation department, or prosecuting attorney as an alternative to formal adjudication.

Deferred prosecution usually has an informal probation period of six months. Two diversion programs are used in most counties: a First Offender Program then deferred prosecution.

A juvenile criminal defense attorney will take several steps to prepare a juvenile and parents to seek deferred prosecution. This includes gathering documentation that reflects well on the juvenile and supports an argument for deferred prosecution. This may be proof of extracurricular activities, good grades, support letters from teachers, proof the juvenile has started professional services, and a letter of remorse.

When are Juveniles in Texas Charged as Adults?

Under Texas Family Code Section 51.02, a juvenile is someone under 17 or older than 17 but still under 18 when the offense was committed. Juveniles are at least 10 years old. Texas juvenile courts have jurisdiction of offenders between 10 and 17. Offenders who are older than 17 will be prosecuted in the adult system.

17-year-olds and even younger teens may still face charges in the adult criminal justice system. Teens may be tried as adults when the charges are very serious, or where there is a history of repeat offenses.

Will My Teenager Face Detention?

Not all teenagers will face detention for a juvenile charge. This will depend on many factors, particularly the severity of the charges and the teen’s prior criminal record. Many juveniles are released to their parents or a guardian once they complete the detention hearing.

How Does Juvenile Probation Work in Texas?

There are many factors a judge will consider when deciding whether a juvenile will be released to a parent’s custody or held in a facility. This includes services available in the county, supervision available at home, criminal actions, mental health and medical needs, and whether there are previous referrals to a juvenile probation department.

If your child is placed on probation, they will live at home, but they must follow very strict restrictions and rules. They will be required to regularly report to a probation officer and movement may be restricted. Probation may last up to the child’s 18th birthday.

Will Juvenile Crimes Follow my Child Into Adulthood?

If your child is tried as an adult, a conviction will be part of their permanent criminal record. A juvenile record, however, is usually sealed. This means it can’t be accessed by potential employers or others once they’re an adult.

A juvenile may have their record sealed once they turn 21 and meet certain criteria, two years after leaving the juvenile system in some cases, or if the court determines it’s necessary.

What Should I do After Receiving a Summons?

The summons you received is a legal notice that charges have been filed against your child and there will be a case in juvenile court. This summons must be served to you at least two days before the hearing date and include the hearing date, time, and location. It should also contain a copy of the petition, or the allegations of delinquent conduct your child is facing.

You may choose to hire a Plano juvenile defense lawyer to serve as an advocate for your child and respond to the petition.

What Are the Types of Hearings in Juvenile cases?

There are several types of hearings your child may need to attend in juvenile court. This first and most informal is the detention hearing. This hearing is held no later than the second working day after your child is taken into custody.

In place of a trial, your child will attend an adjudication hearing. A parent or guardian must be present during this hearing which determines if the child engaged in delinquent conduct and needs rehabilitation. There are no “guilty” or “not guilty” verdicts in juvenile court.

A disposition hearing is similar to a sentencing hearing in an adult criminal case.

Your child has the right to a defense lawyer at all of these hearings. Contact our law office to discuss your rights and options today.