Time Requirements for Juvenile Certification Texas

On the Clock: Time Limits to Try a Juvenile as an Adult

By | Juvenile

Time Requirements on the State’s Power to Certify a Juvenile as an Adult

Time Requirements for Juvenile Certification TexasTexas Family Code Section 54.02 gives the juvenile court the power to transfer its exclusive jurisdiction over a juvenile case to a district court. This transfer of jurisdiction allows the State to treat a juvenile as an adult for purposes of prosecution. Section 54.02 actually lays out two different processes for transferring juvenile cases to adult court. The first process is used in cases where the juvenile is under the age of 18 at the time of certification. The second, which is laid out in Section 54.02(j), is for those cases in which a person has turned 18 prior to the filing of the case in juvenile court. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently upheld the time requirements placed on the power of the State to pursue post-18 certifications in Moore v. State (Case Opinion – 2017).

Section 54.02(j)’s Time Limits

Section 54.02(j) allows a juvenile court to transfer its jurisdiction to an appropriate district court for criminal proceedings if the person accused is 18 years of age or older at the time the petition is filed but was a juvenile at the time the offense was committed. During the transfer hearing, the State must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that “for a reason beyond the control of the State, it was not practicable to proceed in juvenile court before the 18th birthday of the person or after due diligence of the State, it was not practicable to proceed in juvenile court before the 18th birthday of the person because the State did not have probable cause to proceed in juvenile court and new evidence has been found since the 18th birthday of the person or the person could not be found.”

This section of the Family Code imposes on the prosecutors a duty to pursue cases in juvenile court whenever possible. In order to retain the power to prosecute cases after a person has aged out of the juvenile system, the State must show that the delay in prosecution was beyond its control. If it is unable to prove this, then the only choice available for a juvenile court in these situations is to dismiss the case.

The Issue in Moore v. State

In Moore, the accused was charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child. He was alleged to have committed the offense when he was 16 years of age. Due to a heavy caseload and an error in one of the police reports, the detective did not send the case to the District Attorney’s Office until after Moore had turned 18. The prosecutor filed a certification petition in the case over a year later when Moore was 19 years old. The juvenile court transferred the case to district court.

Moore pled in adult court and received 5 years’ probation on a deferred adjudication. He then appealed the case claiming that the juvenile court lacked the jurisdiction to transfer the case because the State did not prove that the delay in filing the case was beyond its control. The State first claimed that law enforcement should not be considered “the State” under Section 54.02(j). The State then argued that the court should consider whether the reasons for the delay were unconstitutional. According to this argument, if the reasons for the delay were not in violation of Moore’s constitutional rights, then the State should be allowed to proceed with the certification regardless of who was to blame for the postponement in filing charges.

The Court’s Ruling

After considering the arguments of both sides, the ruling of the Court of Appeals, and the case law presented by the parties, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on the case. First, the Court held that the term “the State” includes law enforcement and prosecutors collectively. The Court pointed out that the law consistently includes law enforcement in its use of this term.

The Court then dismissed the State’s notion that the requirements of Section 54.02(j) be treated like a claim of speedy trial, due process, or statute of limitations. The Court explained that the reason for the requirements in Section 54.02(j) is to limit the power of the State to prosecute a person as an adult for something that happened when he was a juvenile. In order for an exception to be made to this general rule, the State must prove that it was not at fault for the delay in prosecution.


The Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision in Moore is consistent with the Texas Supreme Court’s rulings in other cases involving juvenile certifications. The courts are clear that juvenile cases should be handled in juvenile court when possible. This means that detectives and prosecutors working juvenile cases must be diligent in giving these cases the proper priority so that an accused juvenile does not age out of the system before his case can be heard by the juvenile court. In any case in which prosecution is delayed until after a person’s 18th birthday, the State will be required to prove that the reason for this lag time was beyond its control. And if the State is unable to meet this requirement, then the courts will prevent further prosecution in these cases.

Juvenile Statements Child Police Interrogations

The Admissibility of Juvenile Statements When Taken By Police

By | Juvenile

Juvenile Statements Child Police InterrogationsThe juvenile justice system in Texas is a hybrid system which incorporates major elements of the adult criminal system, while maintaining separate rules and procedures to ensure that juveniles are not treated or labeled as criminals. In keeping with this philosophy, there are some special rules that apply when police officers take statements from juvenile suspects. This article will explain these rules and when they apply.

Two Types of Juvenile Statements

There are two types of statements: those taken as a result of custodial interrogation and those that are taken without custodial interrogation. There are different rules that apply, depending on which type of statement it is.

Voluntariness of the Statement

Historically in America, confessions have been looked at cautiously. This is because the police interrogation process has always been thought to be coercive by its very nature. The primary concern when viewing a statement given by a suspect is voluntariness. Therefore, no statement can be used in court unless it was voluntarily given. This voluntariness requirement applies to juvenile statements too. For noncustodial statements, voluntariness is the only requirement.

When looking at whether a juvenile statement was voluntary, the courts look at the totality of the circumstances. This means that the court will evaluate the situation including a child’s age, experience, background, education, intelligence, and their capacity to understand their rights and the consequences of waiving them. If, after considering all of the relevant factors in a particular case, the court determines that a noncustodial juvenile statement was voluntary, then it will be admissible in court against that juvenile.

Custodial Interrogation

A police officer that takes a juvenile’s statement as a result of custodial interrogation must not only ensure that the statement was voluntarily given, but also must comply with specific rules set out in the Texas Family Code. But first, you must ask two threshold questions: (1) Was the juvenile in custody? and (2) Was the juvenile being interrogated?

(1) Was the Juvenile in Custody?

Texas Family Code Section 51.095(d) considers a child to be in custody if he is in a juvenile detention facility, is in the custody of a police officer, or if he is in CPS custody and suspected of engaging in delinquent conduct. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided that “in custody” means when a reasonable person, under the circumstances, would believe that his freedom was restricted to the point of a formal arrest. See Dowthitt v. State, 931 S.W.2d 244 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996). The Texas courts use a “reasonable innocent child” standard when looking at juvenile cases. See In the Matter of L.M., 993 S.W.2d 276 (Tex. App.—Austin 1999). Juveniles are not in custody, in the eyes of the Texas courts, when they are told by police that they are not in custody and are free to leave and at the end of the interview they are actually allowed to leave. See In the Matter of V.M.D., 974 S.W.2d 332 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1998).

(2) Was the Juvenile Being Interrogated?

If a child is in custody at the time a statement is taken, then you must look to see if the statement was the result of interrogation. The United States Supreme Court ruled that interrogation includes any questioning by a police officer and any speech or actions that are reasonably likely to get an incriminating response. See Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291 (1980).

Special Rules for Custodial Interrogation Written Statements

If a child is in custody and interrogated, then special rules must be followed before his written statement will be admissible in court. These rules are laid out in Texas Family Code Section 51.095(a)(1).

  • Before a juvenile in custody is interrogated, he must first be taken to a magistrate. The magistrate must advise the juvenile of his rights without the police officer being present.
  • After being warned of his rights and agreeing to waive them in front of a magistrate, the child can then be questioned by the police officer outside of the magistrate’s presence.
  • He can write a statement if he chooses. Before the juvenile signs his statement, however, he must be taken back in front of the magistrate.
  • Without the police officer being present, the magistrate will review the statement with the child and determine if he understands the statement, voluntarily gave it, and voluntarily and intelligently waived his rights.
  • Once the magistrate makes these determinations, the child can sign his statement in front of the magistrate.

Special Rules for Custodial Interrogation Oral Statements

The rules for making a juvenile’s custodial interrogation oral statement admissible in court are enumerated in Texas Family Code Section 51.095(a)(5).

  • The statement must be recorded by an electronic recording device by an operator who is competent to use the device.
  • All voices on the recording must be identified.
  • The recording device must be capable of making an accurate recording.
  • The recording of the child’s statement must be accurate and unaltered.
  • Before the child gives the statement, the recording must show the magistrate giving the juvenile his warnings and the juvenile must waive each right on the recording.
  • The magistrate may request that the police officer, after the interrogation is finished, bring the child and the recording back to the magistrate so the magistrate can review the recording with the child to ensure the statement was voluntarily given.

Exceptions for Oral Statements

Texas Family Code Section 51.095(a)(2)-(4) lays out the exceptions to the requirements for oral statements made while a juvenile is the subject of custodial interrogation. If any of these exceptions applies, then the special rules for oral statements listed above do not have to be complied with. These exceptions are: statements of fact made by the juvenile which are found to be true and tend to establish his guilt, res gestae statements, and statements made in open court or before a grand jury.


The juvenile system in Texas is intentionally separate and distinct from the adult criminal system in order to prevent treating children as if they are miniature criminals. Likewise, there are special rules that apply in some circumstances when a police officer takes a statement from a juvenile suspect. If a juvenile gives a statement without being the subject of custodial interrogation, then the courts will look at the totality of the circumstances to determine if that statement was given voluntarily. If so, then it will be admissible in court against the juvenile. If, however, the child was in custody and subject to interrogation, then these special rules must be followed in order for the statement to be admissible. These rules involve taking the child before a magistrate to be informed of his rights as opposed to being warned by the police officer. If these rules are violated, then the statement will be deemed to be inadmissible.

Juvenile Probation Tarrant County

An Introduction to Juvenile Probation in Tarrant County

By | Juvenile

Juvenile Probation Tarrant CountyMany people have the perception that the juvenile system is simply a slap on the wrist for kids, regardless of the offense. The reason for this belief is the fact that most kids in the juvenile system get probation. But, probation is not always that simple or easy. This is an introduction to juvenile probation in Tarrant County. This article will cover the reasons behind the tendency towards probation, the length and parameters of probation and what it can include.

The Reasons Behind a Probation Heavy System

According to Section 51.01 of the Texas Family Code, the purposes of the juvenile justice system are to protect the public, promote the concept of punishment for criminal acts, to remove the taint of criminality from children, and to provide treatment, training, and rehabilitation that emphasizes accountability for the parent and child for the child’s conduct. This section goes on to state that a child should be removed from his parents only when it is necessary for the welfare of the child or the interest of the public safety. Section 51.01 forms the foundation for which the entire juvenile justice system is based on.
Because of this mandate in Section 51.01 that children should only be removed when necessary, probation with the child remaining in the home is the primary mode of punishment and rehabilitation used by the Tarrant County Juvenile Services Department. The system is not geared towards ripping a kid away from his family, but is built to address and correct the behavior by working with the child and the family together.

The Length and Parameters of Juvenile Probation

In the adult system, a person is only eligible for probation on their first felony offense. In the juvenile system, however, probation is the preferred outcome on cases due to the Family Code’s preference for keeping children in the care of their parents. Under the provisions of the Family Code, a juvenile is eligible for probation on any offense, up to and including murder. For misdemeanor offenses, probation is the only option available.

The maximum length of probation, regardless of offense, is generally up to a child’s 18th birthday. In circumstances involving the most serious offenses or habitual offenders, the prosecutor may seek a determinate sentence which extends the possible punishment. On determinate sentence cases, probation can last for a maximum of ten years. In Tarrant County, prosecutors generally only seek determinate sentences in the most serious of cases.

What Juvenile Probation Can Include

Juvenile probation in Tarrant County can include a wide variety of conditions and requirements, depending on the case and the unique needs of the child and family. Some of the more common conditions of probation are discussed here.

Keys to Juvenile Success in Texas

For Parents: Keys to Success in the Juvenile Justice System

By | Juvenile

The following article is from Christy Dunn, former juvenile prosecutor in the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – Juvenile Division:


Keys to Juvenile Success in TexasAs parents, we want the best for our children. We also want to protect our kids as much as we can. So, naturally, the first reaction for most parents when they find out that their child is being charged with a crime in the juvenile system is to do whatever they can to make the whole thing go away. However, in many cases, this is the worst thing you can do for your child. A lot of times, having a child placed on juvenile probation can be a blessing in disguise, especially if you understand the keys to success in the juvenile system.

The Keys to Success

The keys to success for a child in the juvenile system, at least in Tarrant County, are the attitudes and beliefs of the parents. It is crucial that you remove the blinders of parental love and take an honest and unbiased look at your child’s case. You need to take this objective stance on the case as early in the process as possible. There are several reasons why this is important.

Reason #1: Belief in Your Child’s Innocence and Willingness to Fight

If your child has been accused of committing a crime and is truly innocent, then they need to know that you believe in their innocence. Your child also needs to know that you are going to be there to support them and be willing to fight for them. You can show this support by hiring an attorney to investigate and fight the case. You also need to communicate your support to your child during this difficult time.

Reason #2: Open to Accept Your Child’s Mistakes

Another reason to be honest with yourself about your child’s juvenile case is because it will allow you to have an open mind to the fact that your kid might be guilty of doing what they are accused of. No child is perfect, and sometimes they do stupid things that get them into trouble with the law.

As a general rule of thumb, Tarrant County juvenile prosecutors don’t tend to file frivolous cases. This means that if they file a petition on your child, they usually have some evidence to show that the juvenile was, at a minimum, present during or involved in the commission of the crime. As a parent, you need to be able to consider this evidence with an open mind.

In some cases, it is difficult for a juvenile to admit wrongdoings if their parents are unwilling to accept their guilt. If you are adamant that your child is innocent, they may feel obligated to go along with your beliefs in order to avoid disappointing you. The hardest person in the world to confess to is your parent. By having an open mind, you give your child the opportunity to admit their guilt to you without the worry of disappointing you.

Reason #3: Realistic Assessment of Your Child’s Needs and Problems

In Tarrant County, we see that many times, a juvenile will be involved in a crime due to a need or problem that they have. Sometimes, this is a drug addiction or anger problem. Sometimes, it is a mental health condition or a conflict with someone within the household. Taking an honest look at your child’s juvenile case can help you to realistically assess what their needs and problems are. Acknowledging these problems is the first step to solving them. It is important that both the child and parents accept the problems and make a commitment to fix them.

Reason #4: Realization of Your Contribution

It can be a hard pill to swallow, but sometimes we, as parents, must realize that we have contributed to our children’s problems. This doesn’t mean that we are bad parents. It doesn’t mean that we intentionally set out to harm our children. But, in some cases, the parents have contributed to the problems that caused the child to land in juvenile court. By honestly accepting your part in the problem, you will be able to help solve it for your child in a much quicker manner.

Reason #5: Participation in a Plan to Address the Problems

Taking an objective view of your child’s juvenile case, and your part in creating the problems that led to it, will allow you to be an active participant in coming up with a plan to address the problems. Once a juvenile is involved with the juvenile court system, they gain access to many services that you may not have been aware were available. You will also gain access to one or more probation officers, attorneys, and possibly counselors that can help you and your child meet your child’s underlying needs.

Reason #6: Communicate a Team Approach to Your Child

Your thoughts and attitudes about your child, their case, and the resolution of it are conveyed to your child, whether you realize it or not. You can have a huge impact on how your child feels about the case and what they learn from it. By not judging your child and having an open mind to the outcome, you communicate to your child that you are on their side. You let them know that you are in this together and are there to help them be successful. This is vital to their belief in themselves and their willingness to engage in the process.

Reason #7: Parental Engagement in Probation

Unlike adults, juveniles cannot successfully complete probation without help from their parents. Many times, they do not have a driver’s license or transportation to get to and from their counseling, community service, and probation checks by themselves. So, parental engagement in the probation is a must. If you as the parent buy into the positive aspects of probation and the benefits it can give to your child, you will start to see the buy-in by your child. Additionally, you will ensure that your child gets to each appointment while on probation. By being a part of the process, you will become a valuable part of the team that is there to help your child grow and learn from his mistakes.


Kids tend to feed off of their parents’ beliefs and attitudes when it comes to their viewpoints on the juvenile justice system. Therefore, the secret to your child’s success as they navigate their way through the system is your own honest and open mindset about the process. By having the right attitude, you can affect how and what your child gets out of the system and whether your child returns to the system later. While it may not be easy, this can be a great opportunity to teach your child many life lessons while helping them take a huge leap in the growing up process. Your opinion matters, especially to your child.

Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Texas

Juvenile Sex Offender Registration in Texas

By | Juvenile, Sex Crimes

Juvenile Sex Offender Registration TexasIn Texas, the law governing sex offender registration contains several provisions that apply specifically to juveniles. This means that sex offender registration works differently in juvenile cases than it does in adult cases. This article will highlight how sex offender registration works in the Texas juvenile justice system and why this is an appropriate approach to take in these cases. This article will not discuss exemptions to the sex offender registration law for certain young adult offenders.

Sex Offender Registration in Juvenile Cases

The two biggest differences between sex offender registration in adult and juvenile cases involves how long the duty to register lasts and exemptions or deferrals for certain juvenile cases.

Expiration of the Duty to Register

Sex offender registration in Texas is contained in Chapter 62 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Under Section 62.101, the duty to register in adult cases is for life. However, in juvenile cases, the duty to register ends ten years after the end of the sentence. This ten-year provision also applies to juvenile cases that are certified and transferred to adult court.

Exemptions for Certain Juvenile Cases

According to Section 62.351 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, either during or after the dispositional hearing in a case in which a juvenile has been adjudicated for a registrable offense, the court can hold a hearing to determine whether the interests of the public require this particular juvenile to register under Chapter 62. This hearing will only be held if, prior to the hearing, the attorney for the juvenile has filed a motion asking the court to consider exempting him from the registration requirements.

During this hearing, which does not involve a jury, the juvenile must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the protection of the public would not be increased by the registration or that any increase in the protection of the public is clearly outweighed by the anticipated substantial harm to the juvenile and his family caused by registration. After the hearing, the court, under Section 62.352, can make one of several rulings. If the court determines that the juvenile has met his burden of proof, the court must exempt the child from the duty to register. If the juvenile has not met his burden, the judge can either make the child register, make the registration nonpublic, or defer the decision on registration until after the juvenile has completed treatment.

Deferral of the Registration Requirement Certain Juvenile Cases

If the court decides to defer the registration, the juvenile is not required to register during the deferral period. This deferral will automatically turn into an exemption if the juvenile successfully completes treatment, unless the prosecuting attorney files a motion requesting a hearing to reconsider the issue of registration.

Other Scenarios

Under Sections 62.353 and 62.354, juveniles who are already registering under Chapter 62, or those who are required to register due to an out-of-state adjudication, may also petition the court to have their registration either deferred or waived. These provisions require a hearing similar to that discussed above with exemptions.

Tarrant County’s Approach to Juvenile Sex Offender Registration

No one can guarantee a particular outcome in a specific case. Every case, and every set of facts, is different and unique. However, many times, in Tarrant County, if a motion is filed by the juvenile’s attorney, the court will consider deferring the registration requirement until the end of probation to see if the juvenile can successfully complete treatment.

Other States’ Approaches to Juvenile Sex Offender Registration

It is important to note that not all states have a provision for exempting or deferring a juvenile’s sex offender registration requirements. This means that if a child is adjudicated of a sex offense requiring registration in Texas and then moves out of state, he may be required to register under the new state’s laws.

Why is This an Appropriate Approach to Juvenile Sex Offender Registration?

At first blush, exempting juveniles from registering after they have been adjudicated of a sex offense seems wrong. However, it is important to remember that sex offender registration is a far-reaching consequence that can have profound effects on the life of the person subject to registration. These effects can be even more profound when the person who must register is an 11 or 12-year-old child. It is also important to note that research has shown repeatedly that juveniles who successfully complete treatment are less likely to reoffend than adults. Many juveniles who commit sexual offenses are not pedophiles, but instead, are curious, experimenting, or have not yet developed an acceptable level of impulse control.

While these behaviors are wrong, serious, and need to be addressed, sex offender registration is not the appropriate vehicle to do that. By allowing the exemption or deferral of registration in juvenile cases, Chapter 62 allows judges to evaluate each of these very different cases on their merits and apply the law in the most appropriate way for that case. It also allows juveniles to have a chance at rehabilitation before imposing drastic and long-lasting consequences on them that may devastate their lives before they ever really begin.


Sex offender registration is applied differently in adult cases than it is in juvenile cases. This is due to a few provisions in the law that apply specifically to juveniles. The biggest difference in the two systems is that, in juvenile cases, the judge has discretion over the issue of registration. The court can, if it chooses, defer that registration to see how the juvenile does in treatment. This allows courts to tailor a disposition and consequences to better suit a particular juvenile’s situation while still providing for the protection of the public.

This article is not intended to provide legal advice about any particular case. It is only intended to be a general overview of the sex offender registration law in juvenile cases. For legal advice, please consult an attorney about your case.

Juvenile Trial Adult Trial Texas

Key Differences Between Juvenile and Adult Criminal Trials in Texas

By | Criminal Defense, Juvenile

Juvenile Trial Adult Trial TexasThe juvenile justice system is a hybrid system. Juvenile proceedings are technically civil in nature, but they incorporate many elements from the criminal system. The reason for this separate system is to teach children that they will be held responsible for their actions without labeling them as criminals. The differences between adult and juvenile trials is a direct result of this difference in systems.


One of the most noticeable distinctions between adult and juvenile trials is in terminology. Juveniles accused of crimes are called respondents, not defendants. Juries do not decide whether a respondent is guilty. Instead, they decide whether it is true or not true that he engaged in delinquent conduct.


In Tarrant County, the participants that you will see sitting in the courtroom during a juvenile trial are not the same as in an adult case. In addition to the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, juvenile, court reporter, and jury, there are a couple other participants in juvenile cases. A parent or guardian of the respondent is required to be present during all proceedings. The Tarrant County juvenile judge also requires an intake probation officer to be present anytime the juvenile is in court.


For the most part, the procedures in an adult trial and a juvenile trial in Tarrant County are similar. The same rules of evidence apply. A juvenile respondent has the same rights during a trial as an adult defendant has. The trials in the two systems follow the same general order, as well.

There are a few significant differences, however. First, and probably most important, is the contrast in who makes punishment decisions in the trials. In adult cases, a defendant can choose whether a judge or jury determines punishment. However, in juvenile cases, a respondent only has this choice in determinate sentence cases. In all other cases, a judge will determine the punishment, if any.

Another difference is the judge’s charge to the jury. The jury charge in a juvenile case is a civil charge with criminal language included in it. It is typically longer than a standard criminal charge in an adult case. The jury’s verdict form is also a bit different. In adult cases, the verdict form asks the jury to write guilty or not guilty. In juvenile trials, as mentioned earlier, the jury determines true or not true that the respondent engaged in delinquent conduct.

Disposition/Punishment Phase

In adult criminal trials, if a defendant is found guilty, the case moves into the punishment phase. In juvenile cases, that next phase is called the dispositional hearing. This is another area in which a juvenile trial differs from adult trials in Tarrant County.

If the jury is assessing punishment in an adult case, it generally happens almost immediately after a verdict of guilty is returned. If the defendant chooses the judge to assess punishment, the hearing is usually scheduled for a later date.

In the juvenile justice system, most of the time, the respondent does not get to choose who determines disposition. The judge will make the vast majority of these disposition decisions. This means that the dispositional hearing will usually be held a few weeks after the trial. Unlike in adult cases, a social history report on the respondent must be prepared by the intake probation officer prior to the dispositional hearing taking place. This report will be considered by the judge in assessing the appropriate disposition.

Practical Differences

The last big discrepancy between adult and juvenile cases has to do with the practical effect that these cases have on the person accused. The juvenile system emphasizes rehabilitation instead of punishment. Therefore, juvenile dispositions do not have the same long-term ramifications that adult punishments have. Typically, they are limited in length due to the age limits imposed by the system. In Tarrant County, the juvenile judge will consider probation in each case in which it is appropriate to consider.

There are a lot of differences between adult and juvenile trials. The main reason for this is because these trials are part of two separate and distinct systems. The juvenile system is a hybrid, combining parts of the civil and criminal systems into one. While there are many similarities between the two, this article highlights the main distinctions between the two.

About the Author

Christy Dunn is a writer and attorney licensed to practice in Texas. She was a prosecutor for 15 years. The last five years of her prosecutorial career was spent in the Juvenile Division of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office. She has tried over 20 juvenile cases in Texas and multiple certification hearings.

juvenile determinate sentencing texas

Texas Juvenile Law: What is Determinate Sentencing?

By | Juvenile

Determinate Sentencing Can Extend the Life of a Texas Juvenile Case

juvenile determinate sentencing texasIn the Texas juvenile justice system, a juvenile court has jurisdiction over a youthful offender if he or she is under the age of 17 at the time an offense is committed. The punishment for an offense typically can only last until a juvenile’s 19th birthday. We are often asked, “What happens if the juvenile is convicted of a serious offense? Is it possible for the court to impose a sentence that extends beyond the juvenile’s 19th birthday?” That is where Determinate Sentencing comes in. This post explains what Determinate Sentencing means and how it can impact a juvenile case.

What is Determinate Sentencing in Texas Juvenile Law?

Determinate sentencing creates a hybrid system whereby juveniles who have been adjudicated for severe criminal offenses are given a sentence that begins in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (“TJJD”) and can potentially be transferred to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”) for a term of up to forty years.

Who requests a Determinate Sentence?

The prosecution has sole discretion as to whether to seek a determinate sentence. If the prosecutor decides to pursue a determinate sentence, he or she must file a petition indicating a child engaged in delinquent conduct with the court. Then, the prosecutor must present that petition to the grand jury for approval. If the petition is approved, then it becomes a determinate sentence case. However, if the petition is denied by the grand jury, the State’s only recourse would be to pursue the case as normal.

If a juvenile is adjudicated of a determinate sentence, then the judge or jury can assess an appropriate disposition, or punishment, in accordance with the determinate sentence range of punishment. This range is up to 40 years for a capital felony, first degree felony or an aggravated controlled substance felony, up to 20 years for a second degree felony, and up to 10 years for a third degree felony. Misdemeanors and state jail felonies are not eligible for determinate sentence under the Determinate Sentence Act.

Once the prosecutor’s request for a determinate sentence has been granted by the grand jury, he or she retains the power to later waive determinate sentencing so long as this occurs before the juvenile has been adjudicated. This often occurs in the course of plea negotiations, when the prosecutor offers an indeterminate sentence in exchange for the juvenile’s acceptance of the plea.

For indeterminate disposition, only the judge may assess punishment. However, for determinate sentence cases, the juvenile may choose either the judge or jury to assess disposition. If the juvenile would like the jury to decide punishment, he or she must file a written request with the judge prior to voir dire.

To what offenses can Determinate Sentencing apply?

Section 53.045 of the Texas Family Code provides a list of offenses that are eligible for determinate sentencing. Those offenses include:

  • habitual felony conduct;
  • murder;
  • capital murder;
  • manslaughter;
  • aggravated kidnaping;
  • sexual assault;
  • aggravated sexual assault;
  • aggravated assault;
  • aggravated robbery;
  • injury to a child, elderly individual or disabled individual;
  • felony deadly conduct involving discharging a firearm;
  • certain offenses involving controlled substances;
  • criminal solicitation;
  • indecency with a child;
  • criminal solicitation of a minor;
  • attempted murder or attempted capital murder;
  • arson, if bodily injury or death is suffered by any person by reason of the commission of the arson;
  • intoxication manslaughter, and criminal conspiracy.

What is the impact of a Determinate Sentence?

A juvenile who has been adjudicated of a determinate sentence will either be sentenced to placement in the TJJD or placed on probation.  In each case, the juvenile court retains jurisdiction over the juvenile up until the juvenile turns eighteen or nineteen.  For crimes committed before September 1, 2011, the juvenile remains in the juvenile system until his or her eighteenth birthday.

Juveniles who receive probation can be on probation for up to 10 years, which may extend past the time the juvenile reaches adulthood. When a juvenile on determinate sentence probation ages out of the juvenile system, the probation automatically expires unless the prosecutor requests a transfer hearing prior to the juvenile’s nineteenth birthday. If a transfer hearing is requested and held, the juvenile judge will decide whether to transfer the juvenile into the custody of an adult criminal court. If the request for transfer is granted, the county’s adult probation department would supervise the juvenile for the remainder of his or her probation.

The alternative to probation is for a juvenile to be sentenced to TJJD with the possibility of transfer to TDCJ. In this situation, the judge or jury imposes a sentence of a set number of years that may extend past the age of adulthood. A juvenile is required to complete a minimum length of stay at TJJD. Once he or she has completed that minimum length of stay, TJJD can parole the juvenile, if they choose. For those juveniles who are unable to complete their minimum length of stay prior to aging out of the juvenile system or who are not participating in TJJD programs or progressing satisfactorily towards rehabilitation, TJJD can request a transfer hearing. The transfer hearing, if requested, must be heard by the original juvenile judge who heard the case and it must take place prior to the juvenile’s 19th birthday. After hearing evidence at the hearing, the judge will then decide whether the youth should be transferred to adult prison to complete his or her sentence or whether the youth can be safely released on parole without putting the public safety at risk.

Texas Juvenile Crimes Defense Attorneys | Free consultation

Contact the Texas juvenile defense attorneys at Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC for a FREE consultation of your juvenile case. It is best to contact an attorney at the outset of a juvenile case. Do not wait until after you have attended a meeting with the district attorney. Call today!

Juvenile DPP Tarrant County

Deferring Prosecution for Juvenile Cases in Tarrant County

By | Juvenile

Juvenile DPP Tarrant CountyAre there any options for my child short of going to court? Many parents ask this question after finding out that their child has been referred to the juvenile system. For a lot of kids who are in trouble for the first time, there is a great option available: Deferred Prosecution Program (DPP). In Tarrant County, DPP is used quite often. This article will answer all of your questions about DPP.

What is Tarrant County’s Juvenile DPP?

DPP is a form of informal probation. The juvenile is supervised by a probation officer and has conditions of supervision to abide by during the period of DPP. But unlike formal probation, DPP does not require court action.

How long does the Juvenile Deferred Prosecution Program last?

DPP can, initially, be up to 6 months in length. Most of the time in Tarrant County, a juvenile will receive a 6-month term. Under the provisions of the Texas Family Code, DPP can be extended for an additional 6 months if necessary. However, DPP cannot last longer than 12 months total.

What types of cases are eligible for DPP in Tarrant County?

DPP can be offered in any case, regardless of the offense. Whether DPP is appropriate for a given juvenile depends more on the kid’s prior history with the legal system and the facts of the case than it does with what the offense is. However, a child has a better chance of receiving DPP in a misdemeanor or a minor felony case than for a serious felony.

At what point in the process can DPP be offered to a juvenile?

In Tarrant County, there are four points in the process where DPP can be offered to a juvenile. The first of these is by the intake probation officer during the intake process. Many times, if the case is appropriate for DPP, the probation officer will offer it during the intake appointment. This is one of many reasons why it is important for the family to attend the intake appointment with the probation officer. If DPP is accepted, then the juvenile will begin supervision and the case will not be referred to the prosecutor.

The second point where DPP can be offered is after the case is referred to the District Attorney. Once the prosecutor has reviewed the case, she can decide to offer DPP. If it is accepted at this point, the case is sent back to the juvenile probation department and supervision will begin. The prosecutor can also offer DPP after the case is filed and before it goes to court. If this happens, then the charges are dismissed and DPP supervision begins.

The last opportunity for a DPP offer is in court. In Tarrant County, this is rare, and only happens if the probation officer and prosecutor both refuse to offer DPP. At court, prior to any evidence being heard, the juvenile and his attorney can ask the judge to give DPP. The judge has discretion to grant the DPP or not.

Are charges still filed in a juvenile DPP case?

Typically, charges are not filed in a DPP case. If the DPP is agreed upon after charges have been filed, the charges are, at that point, dismissed.

What are the typical conditions of supervision?

The conditions of supervision on DPP are generally the same as for probation. These include go to school, don’t commit crimes, and obey the curfew set by the parents. In some cases, the conditions may also include appropriate counseling or restitution.

What happens if the juvenile is not successful in completing DPP?

If a juvenile who is on DPP violates the terms of his supervision, the case could be reopened and reviewed. If the original DPP was given by the probation officer, then the case will be sent to the prosecutor upon violation. At that point, the charges can be filed or the prosecutor can offer a second term of DPP. If the original DPP was given by the prosecutor, then upon violation the charges can be filed and the case can go to court. The judge can give a second term of DPP at this point if he chooses.

What happens if DPP is successful?

If the juvenile is successful on DPP, then the case is closed out with no adjudication on the juvenile’s record. The juvenile may be able to his record sealed after a period of time.

DPP is a wonderful option that is available to juveniles who have never been in trouble before or who are referred for minor offenses. It is up to 6 months of informal probation. If the child is successful on DPP, then the case will be closed and no charges will ever be filed. DPP is an alternative to going to court and being on formal probation. For many kids, this will be a great opportunity to handle their case in a very favorable manner. If DPP is offered, it is worth considering and discussing it with your attorney.

About the Author

Christy Dunn is a writer and attorney licensed to practice in Texas. She was a prosecutor for 15 years. The last five years of her prosecutorial career was spent in the Juvenile Division of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office. She has tried over 20 juvenile cases in Texas and multiple certification hearings.

Juvenile Intake Tarrant County

The Juvenile Justice Intake Process in Tarrant County, Texas

By | Juvenile

Juvenile Intake Tarrant CountyIn Tarrant County, the Juvenile Probation Department is the intake agency for the county. This means that when a police officer files a case against a juvenile, it goes to Juvenile Probation before being sent to the District Attorney’s Office. The common practice is for cases to be referred by law enforcement officers without making an arrest. When this happens, there is a specific process in place with certain tasks that the juvenile intake officers must perform before a case is referred to the prosecutor. This article will walk you through this often-misunderstood process and explain why those juvenile probation officers do what they do.

Overview of the Juvenile Intake Process in Tarrant County, Texas

When a case is first received by the Tarrant County Juvenile Probation Department, it is assigned to an intake unit. There are three intake units within the department. Once it is received by the intake unit supervisor, it is assigned to a court intake officer. The court intake officer is responsible for completing several tasks prior to court, including: conducting an intake appointment, administering assessments, making sure the juvenile is fingerprinted and photographed, and preparing a social history. The intake officer must also make a decision about what the next step in the process should be.

The Intake Appointment

The intake appointment is, arguably, the most important piece of the intake process in Tarrant County. It is also the part that is the most confusing to families and defense attorneys alike. While families and attorneys can, and do, refuse to participate in the intake appointment, nothing good comes from refusing. To the contrary, in some cases, cooperating with the probation officer by showing up for the intake appointment can help resolve the case without a referral to the prosecutor or court action. The defense attorney can be at the intake appointment if he wishes, but is not required to be.

During the intake appointment, the probation officer will explain the process to the juvenile and his family. They will also explain the charges and sometimes read a summary of the police report. They are not allowed to give a copy of the police report to the family. The intake officers do not ask the juvenile about the offense. Next, the officer will get some background information from the family. This information will include a family history, school history, and information on any other agencies that the family has been involved with. The officer will also ask about substance abuse, mental health, any prior hospitalizations, current and past medications, behavior at school and home, and family criminal history. The purpose in gathering all this information is to put together a social history, which is a comprehensive report, on the child that will guide the court and the attorneys involved when making decisions about the juvenile and the case.

Juvenile Assessments – PACT & MAYSI

During the intake appointment, the probation officer will also administer a couple of assessments to the juvenile. These are required, but the defense attorney can decline the assessments. The two assessments, which are given are called the PACT and the MAYSI.

The purpose of the PACT assessment is to determine the child’s risks to reoffend and needs for services. The results of the PACT assessment are included in the social history that is given to the court and attorneys. The MAYSI is designed to screen for problems with mental health, substance abuse, and/or suicide. If the results of the MAYSI show a concern for suicide, a no-harm contract will be completed with the child, and the officer will refer that child for services to help with the suicidal tendencies.

Fingerprinting and Photographing

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) requires anyone who is charged with a crime, juvenile or adult, to be fingerprinted and photographed. This information is submitted to DPS and is included in the person’s juvenile or criminal history. When a person is arrested, these two things are done as a part of the book in process. However, when a juvenile case is referred to the Tarrant County Juvenile Probation Department without an arrest, the probation officer is required to get the fingerprinting and photographing done. This is usually done during the intake appointment. It entails the officer walking the child to the juvenile detention center where the fingerprint and photograph office is located and having it done. This is one part of the process, which cannot be waived or refused. It is required by the State of Texas in every case.

Probable Cause Decision Regarding the Case

The last aspect of the intake process is for the probation officer to make a probable cause determination on the case and decide what to do with the case. There are certain offenses that are considered “mandatory referrals” in Tarrant County. This means that the probation officer is required to refer the case to the prosecutor for review. The mandatory referral offenses are the more serious offenses and are usually felonies.

For offenses that are not mandatory referrals, the probation officer is responsible for making a decision about what to do with the case. The officer can, of course, refer a case to the prosecutor for review even if it is not a mandatory referral. However, they have other choices too. They can dismiss a case or offer the juvenile Deferred Prosecution Program (DPP), which is an informal probation period without charges being filed. In some cases, the officer may determine that if the child pays restitution, then the case can be closed out without any further action. If the child and family does not cooperate with the intake process, the officer is required to refer the case to the prosecutor. However, if the family does participate, they may find that they can take care of their case during the meeting with the intake officer, which is definitely to the child’s benefit.

Additionally, the officer may, and many times will, make referrals for services to the family based on their needs. These referrals could be for any number of resources available in the community. They could include referrals to MHMR, school programs, and counseling, to name a few.

The Tarrant County Juvenile Probation Department’s intake process is misunderstood many times by families and attorneys. It is not an adversarial process. The intake officers are neutral parties charged with gathering information, preparing social history reports, and making referrals for services. They are required by law to perform a few tasks, such as fingerprinting. However, their primary purpose is to help the child and the family navigate a system which may be unfamiliar and confusing. If you and your child are contacted about meeting with an officer for an intake appointment, it is preferable for you to cooperate so that you may have access to all possible options in your child’s case.

About the Author

Christy Dunn is a writer and attorney licensed to practice in Texas. She was a prosecutor for 15 years. The last five years of her prosecutorial career was spent in the Juvenile Division of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office.  She has tried over 20 juvenile cases in Texas and multiple certification hearings.

Tarrant County Juvenile Drug Court Program

Help When You Need It Most: Tarrant County Juvenile Drug Court Program

By | Juvenile

Tarrant County Juvenile Drug Court ProgramLast week I wrote about things that every parent needs to know about kids and drugs. Today, I want to share with you a valuable resource to use if your child has gotten involved in drugs in Tarrant County. If your teenager has been charged in juvenile court with their first drug offense, you need to ask about the Tarrant County Juvenile Drug Court Program.

The Basics of the Program

The Drug Court Program in Tarrant County was launched in 1999. It was the first of its kind in the State of Texas. It is a voluntary program aimed at first time juvenile drug offenders. According to Tom Zaback, a Tarrant County juvenile probation officer and the supervisor of the program, 80% of the participants in Drug Court graduate the program successfully.

Juveniles in the program, and their parents, are required to commit a lot to Drug Court. This commitment to the program leads to a commitment to change, which contributes significantly to juveniles graduating from Drug Court and kicking their drug problem. While in Drug Court, which lasts for six months, juveniles and their parents will work closely with a probation officer and drug counselors in classes and groups that are tailored to meet the individual needs of each child.

The Process of the Juvenile Drug Court Program

Cases are screened automatically by the probation officers assigned to Drug Court to determine kids who may be appropriate for the program. However, if your child has been charged with a drug offense and you feel this may be a good option for him, you can ask your intake probation officer about being considered for inclusion in Drug Court.

Once a juvenile has been identified for the program, one of the Drug Court probation officers will schedule an intake with that child and his parents. During the intake appointment, the probation officer will explain the requirements of the program, get a social history from the family, and have the juvenile to take a drug test. The juvenile must also submit to a drug assessment during the screening process. This assessment will help to determine the level of that child’s drug problem and the recommended level of treatment needed. At the end of the screening, the probation officer will make a recommendation about whether that child should be allowed into Drug Court.

If a juvenile is recommended for Drug Court, the case is then sent to the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office Juvenile Unit for prosecution. The prosecutor will review the case and file the charges with the court. The Tarrant County Juvenile Court will then schedule the case for a drug court hearing. At that hearing, the juvenile must stipulate, or admit, to the charges. The judge will enter a judgment withheld, which means that the judge will note that there is sufficient evidence to adjudicate the juvenile delinquent (or find him guilty), but will not, at that time, actually adjudicate the juvenile. The judge will then order him into the Drug Court Program.

Every juvenile in the program must come back to court for a judicial review at the 3-month mark and again at the end of the program. The purpose of this judicial review is for the judge to monitor the child’s progress in Drug Court. At the end of the six-month program, if the child has successfully completed all requirements, the judge will deny the prosecutor’s petition and order the child’s offense record to be sealed immediately. This is a huge benefit to the child because it means that he can honestly say to anyone asking in the future that he has not been charged or adjudicated for a drug offense. Sealing one’s record effectively erases it from existence.

The Requirements of the Tarrant County Juvenile Drug Court Program

As I mentioned above, while in Drug Court, a kid will be required to work with a probation officer and drug counselor to resolve any problems that he is facing with regards to drugs. There are other conditions that a juvenile in the program is required to follow, which are similar to the conditions of traditional probation. Some of these conditions are: no drugs, go to school, be honest, and attend treatment regularly. If a kid violates the terms of his Drug Court agreement, a progress report will be sent to the judge. If it is determined that a juvenile has violated the terms of the program to the extent that he is kicked out, he will be required to return to court for a disposition hearing. At this court hearing, the judge will enter a finding that the juvenile is adjudicated of the drug offense and then proceed to determine the appropriate punishment, or disposition, for the drug violation. This may result in the child being placed on traditional probation, being ordered to attend an in-patient drug treatment program, or in extreme cases, being sentenced to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Additionally, a driver’s license suspension will usually be ordered.

The Tarrant County Juvenile Drug Court is a wonderful program designed to help kids who are charged with a first-time drug offense. Its purpose is to help juveniles work through their drug problems while giving them a second chance to keep their juvenile record intact. The program is very successful. It requires a high level of commitment from the juveniles and parents who are in it, but that commitment is rewarded with a true change in the behavior, attitude, and lifestyle of that child. If your child is struggling with drugs, it is worth asking whether the Tarrant County Drug Court Program can help.