By: Mark Diaz
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In What Cases Are Minors Charged As Adults In Texas?
Can you be charged as an adult in Texas if you are under 18? The short answer is yes; approximately 4.5% of the country’s juvenile criminal offenders in adult prisons are in Texas. A recent case involved a 16-year-old male in Houston accused of raping a mental health professional at a juvenile facility last year. The minor was later charged as an adult for assaulting a peace officer and aggravated sexual assault.
If you are concerned about you or your child being charged as an adult in Texas, below is critical information to be aware of. Speak to Galveston criminal defense lawyers at Mark Diaz & Associates if you have questions about a criminal case.
How Many Minors Are In Adult Prisons?
Below are sobering statistics about the number of minors in adult prisons in the United States:
- The US Department of Justice recently found that 107,000 minors are incarcerated in the US every day.
- Of those, approximately 14,500 are in adult prisons. Approximately 9,100 are held in jails, and about 5,500 are put in adult prisons.
- Of all states, 44 have juveniles 17 and younger in adult prisons. In the past five years, the number of minors in adult prisons has risen across the country.
- Of the 44 states with juveniles in adult prisons, 18 have young offender housing units. Approximately 55% of the minor inmates in adult prisons are black.
- 51% of the juvenile offenders in adult prisons are in dormitories and 30% are in individual cells.
Who Is Considered A Juvenile In Texas?
According to Texas law, children under 17 but older than 10 must be tried in a juvenile court. This is true for everything from Class C misdemeanors to first-degree murder. However, once the child is 17, they can be tried as adults.
When the child turns 18, they can no longer be tried in juvenile court. That said, the age restrictions in Texas juvenile and adult courts are not cast in stone. For example, minors who are at least 14 may be tried as adults may be charged as adults if the crimes are of sufficient severity.
Usually, parents and criminal defense attorneys typically want to keep minors outside the adult justice system. However, if the minor is at least 14 and faces a capital felony or first-degree felony, the case may be referred to the adult courts. In addition, for minors 15 years old or older, a jail felony charge can result in a transfer to the adult court system.
When the minor is sent to the adult courts, all their subsequent felony charges are tried in the adult system. Minors charged as adults in Texas face the same consequences as adults. Other than a mandatory life sentence or death penalty.
What Factors Are Considered?
Not every Texas juvenile court transfer request is granted. Before there is a decision, the court holds a transfer hearing. There is no jury. Case details and other matters are reviewed during the hearing. For example, the court will consider if the felony was committed against property or a person. Criminal offenses against people are more often transferred to adult courts. The juvenile court also reviews these factors:
- How sophisticated and mature the minor is
- The prior criminal record of the child
- How much of a public safety risk the child is to the public
- How likely the child is to become rehabilitated
A Texas criminal defense attorney will best argue that the minor should be sent to a juvenile facility. This is important because children in adult prisons are at higher risk of assault and other serious crimes.
How The Juvenile Court System Works In Texas
A child in Texas can be arrested and charged with a crime. However, Texas procedural requirements are different for juveniles compared to adults. Texas law says the Juvenile Justice Code is part of the Texas Family Code.
Texas juvenile courts say there is a possibility of rehabilitating the minor. The criminal justice system’s central question is: What is in the child’s best interest? If law enforcement thinks there is probable cause to put a juvenile under arrest, they may do so. Texas law does not require law enforcement to have an arrest warrant for a juvenile suspect.
How Long Can A Minor Be Kept In Juvenile Detention?
The law states that a Texas juvenile must be released from juvenile detention unless the criminal court determines one or more of the following:
- The minor is at high risk to flee
- The minor is not getting enough care, protection, and supervision from their guardian
- The minor does not have a guardian or parent to get them to court appearances
- The minor is a danger to themselves or a public safety threat
- The minor has been convicted before of a serious crime
What Are Common Juvenile Crimes In Texas?
If a youth commits a minor offense in Texas, they may be held in juvenile detention. In this state, most juvenile crimes unrelated to traffic infractions include running away from home, using inhalants, school expulsions, sexting, and prostitution. These are also status offenses because they are not crimes under the adult system.
However, delinquent conduct often involves serious criminal offenses that can lead to a term in juvenile detention. Common examples of delinquent behavior in Texas are:
- Larceny: This is another term for theft and often involves stealing small items from friends, classmates, and teachers
- Vandalism: If the juvenile defaces restrooms, paints graffiti, or damages bikes or cars
- Violent crimes and assault: Fighting with classmates, teachers, and family can bring an assault charge
- Drug and alcohol crimes: Many juveniles illegally use drugs and alcohol, which leads to additional crimes
Juvenile Crime Penalties
In this state, a juvenile will be punished based on the severity of the crimes. The Texas judge who hears the case has plenty of discretion in administering punishment to minors. Common penalties for convicted juveniles are:
- Minor offenses, such as disobeying curfew, usually are punished with a $50 to $500 fine. The juvenile also may receive probation.
- Truancy, or being absent from school, can result in a driver’s license suspension.
- Drug possession can bring fines and a term in juvenile detention.
- Vandalism may lead to a fine of $500 or more. Much depends on what it costs to fix the damage. More serious vandalism results in juvenile detention.
- Underage drinking and related offenses are punished will the loss of driver’s license and possibly fines.
The juvenile court will decide what the penalty is based on the offense and the minor’s criminal history. If the minor is sentenced to house arrest, they must complete the term and any training before being released. If they are 19 and still did not finish their juvenile sentence, the court can send them to adult prison.
What Are Defenses To Juvenile Crimes?
Several defenses could be effective if you or your child are charged with a crime as a juvenile. For example:
- Showing that law enforcement did not gather evidence legally or follow the correct procedure when they investigated the offense
- Proving that the minor did not commit the offense or was not in the area
- Showing that the individual who committed the crime is regretful and has no criminal history
Why Keep Your Child Out Of The Adult Court System?
For more felonies, children in Texas can be tried and convicted as adults. The biggest reason you do not want your child in the adult system is it is not focused on rehabilitation. If a child is convicted in an adult court in Texas, they face:
- Prison time in an adult facility
- Thousands of dollars in fines
- Strict probation terms when released
The juvenile will also have a felony conviction on their record for the rest of their lives. This can hamper them from doing things most young people want, such as going to college or getting a job. That is why it is vital to have premier legal representation if you or your child is faced with being charged as an adult.
Talk To A Galveston Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
A minor being charged as an adult is a serious matter in Texas. The Lone Star State has a ‘once an adult, always an adult’ rule for felony crimes. If you are prosecuted as an adult and are under 18, you face the same punishments as those much older than you. You could get years in prison, heavy fines, and a permanent criminal record.
If the minor is your child, they could have difficulty getting a decent job, applying for school, finding a house or apartment, or enjoying everyday life. Fortunately, a skilled Galveston criminal defense lawyer can help you. Mark Diaz is a skilled, savvy criminal defense lawyer who represents minors being charged as adults in Texas.
Mark Diaz & Associates represent those under 18 in Galveston, Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, League City, Texas City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, Kemah, Clear Lake Shores, Bolivar Peninsula, Dickinson, and San Leon. Contact one of our Galveston criminal defense lawyers now at (409) 515-6170.