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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.

Downtown Fort Worth Atelier Building

BHW Completes Full Renovation of Fort Worth’s Historic Atelier Building

By | Criminal Defense

Downtown Fort Worth Atelier BuildingBarnett Howard & Williams PLLC recently completed a full renovation of the historic Atelier Building (1905) in downtown Fort Worth. The Atelier Building is one of the oldest buildings in downtown Fort Worth, Texas that stills stands today. Built in 1905, the Atelier Building housed several different businesses over its 112-year history, including architects, banks, and a restaurant at one time. Located on 8th street between Houston and Throckmorton, the Atelier Building is marked by its dual terra-cotta fireplaces and marble facade.

The Atelier Building was last renovated in 1980 when architect Cameron Alread purchased the building. The building housed Mr. Alread’s architect firm for 36 years, until he sold the building to the law firm of Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC. Over the last six months, the law firm completely renovated the building from floor to ceiling. “One of our goals in this renovation was to bring out the history of the building,” said owner Luke Williams. If you take a look inside the building you will see exactly what he means. Plaster walls were removed to expose the original brick on the walls – bricks that have been around longer than most building in downtown. The foyer is graced by an enlarged photograph that was taken outside the building sometime during the 1930’s, back when 8th street was a brick road.

Office manager, Sue Holdridge has noticed a warm reception from the people of downtown. “Folks on the sidewalk continue to stop by and tell us how much they have enjoyed watching the transformation of the building and how much character it brings to this block of downtown.”

Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC moved its practice to Fort Worth in 2013, and maintained an office in Sundance Square until December 2016, when the Atelier Building renovation was complete. The firm gives all the credit for the renovation to Eric Hill at Hill Design & Build in Keller. He was the primary designer and architect for the project.

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.

Conclusion

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.

sexting laws texas

When Is “Sexting” a Crime in Texas?

By | Sex Crimes

sexting laws texas“Sexting” has become a very popular activity amongst teenagers and young adults in the last several years. This generation sees it as just another ordinary part of life with cell phones. For parents, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers, however, sexting is a dangerous habit that has wide-ranging effects. While sexting has the potential to severely damage lives and reputations, the very nature of it makes it difficult for authorities to adequately address the problems it causes. This article will explore what sexting is, how common it is, the applicable laws, and the practical implications of applying those laws to common instances of sexting.

What Is Sexting?

Sexting is derived from the words “sex” and “texting.” It means the sending of nude or sexually explicit photos or sexually suggestive text messages by text, email, or instant messenger using a mobile device. Many times, the person depicted in the photographs has either consented to the photo being taken or has taken the pictures of themselves. Typically, the person in the photograph, either on their own initiative or at the request of another, takes the photo and then voluntarily sends it to a significant other or a person they are attracted to. The intent is generally for the picture to be kept private by the initial recipient.

The problem with sexting arises when the photograph is either posted on the internet, usually through a social media platform, or is shared with others through text or email. In many cases, this posting or sharing is not consented to by the person depicted in the picture.

How Common is Sexting?

A study done by Drexel University in 2015 found that over 80% of adults surveyed admitted to sexting within the last year. The study was presented during the American Psychological Association’s 2015 convention. According to GuardChild.com, 20% of all teenagers have sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves and 39% of teenagers have sent sexually suggestive messages through either email, text, or instant messaging.

Criminal Laws Applicable to Texting in Texas

In the State of Texas, there are several laws which could be used to prosecute instances of sexting, especially if it involves a minor. These laws can range from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.

Unlawful Disclosure or Promotion of Intimate Visual Material

Texas law makes it unlawful for a person to intentionally disclose photographs or videos of a person engaged in sexual conduct or with their intimate parts exposed without the consent of the person depicted if the person in the photo/video had a reasonable expectation that the material would remain private, the person depicted is harmed and the identity of the person in the photo/video is revealed through the disclosure. This is a Class A misdemeanor.

Sale, Distribution, or Display of Harmful Material to a Minor

A person who sells, distributes, or shows “harmful material” to a minor, knowing that the material is harmful and the person is a minor, or displays harmful material and is reckless about whether a minor is present who would be offended is guilty of this offense in Texas. This is a Class A misdemeanor unless the person uses a minor to commit the offense, and then it is a third-degree felony.

Sexual Performance by a Child

The offense of sexual performance of a child is committed when a person employs, authorizes, or induces a child under the age of 18 to engage in sexual conduct. In this context, “sexual conduct” includes the lewd exhibition of the genitals, anus or breast. This offense is a third-degree felony, but if the victim was under the age of 14 at the time of the offense, then it is enhanced to a second-degree felony.

Possession or Promotion of Child Pornography

A person commits the offense of possession or promotion of child pornography if he intentionally or knowingly promotes or possesses with the intent to promote material that depicts a child engaged in sexual conduct knowing that the material depicts a child. This is a third-degree felony, but it can be enhanced to a second or first-degree felony.

The Sexting Law – Electronic Transmission of Certain Visual Material Depicting Minor

This is Texas’ “sexting” statute. Under it, a person under the age of 18 commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly possesses or promotes to another minor visual material that depicts a minor engaged in sexual conduct by electronic means if he produced the material or knows that another minor produced it. This is a Class C misdemeanor, but it can be enhanced to either a Class B or Class A misdemeanor in certain situations.

Practical Implications

An instance of sexting in Texas can be prosecuted under any of the above laws. However, there are problems with each of these statutes that makes it difficult to prosecute sexting cases under them. These problems are what led the Texas legislature to create the sexting law several years ago.

Problems with the Sexting Law

However, there are two major problems with this law. First, the sexting statute only applies to persons under the age of 18. This means that an 18-year-old high school student who shares sexting photos with others in his high school cannot be prosecuted under this law. The second problem with it is that it creates a defense to prosecution if the person in possession of the visual material destroys it. So, the law that makes sexting illegal also allows those who break the law to get away with it by destroying the evidence. Because of these problems, it is almost impossible to prosecute someone under this law.

Problems with Using the Other Laws to Prosecute Sexting

The main issue with using the other laws laid out above to prosecute sexting cases is that they were not created to address this specific behavior. So, it becomes a situation where prosecutors are having to shove a square peg into a round hole to make it work in many cases. For instance, the Unlawful Disclosure or Promotion of Intimate Visual Material law requires that the person in the pictures had a reasonable expectation that the photos would remain private. GuardChild.com found in their compilation of sexting statistics that 44% of teenagers believe it is common for sexually suggestive text messages to be shared with others, and 35-40% of them feel that it is common for nude or semi-nude photos to be shared with others beyond the intended recipient. These beliefs undermine the “reasonable expectation of privacy” prong of the law.

Similarly, the Possession or Promotion of Child Pornography statute is problematic when used in sexting cases because it does not include any protections from prosecution for the victim. This means that when a teen age girl takes a nude photo of herself and sends it to her boyfriend, who then shares it with other students, the girl who took the photo of herself is as guilty of promotion of child pornography as the boy who shared it with others. Most people would agree that the victim shouldn’t face charges for child pornography. Yet, prosecutors must either prosecute both of them or do nothing.

Sex Offender Registration for a Sexting Conviction

Another major practical ramification of sexting is that if a person is convicted or adjudicated for sexting under the possession or promotion of child pornography law, he will be required to register as a sex offender for life if the person is prosecuted in the adult system or for ten years past the end of his sentence if he is adjudicated as a juvenile. Depending on the facts of the case, this can be a very harsh consequence for a behavior that is so common in this modern world we live in. But it is important for anyone who engages in sexting, and their parents, to realize that sex offender registration for life is a very real possibility if prosecuted.

Conclusion

While many parents may not know that sexting even exists, the fact remains that it is much more common than we would like to think. It can have devastating consequences for the person depicted in the photos, and for anyone who shares or possesses these photos. Many teenagers engage in this behavior without realizing what the ramifications can be.

This is one area where the law hasn’t caught up to technology yet. So, the job of protecting our children from the harms associated with sexting still falls primarily to parents. It is important for parents to educate themselves about the practice and then talk to their teenagers and pre-teens about the dangers of sexting.

 

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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.

Terminology

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.

Participants

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.

Procedures

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.

Sexsomnia Sleep Sex

“Sexsomnia” or “Sleep Sex” May Be a Defense to Sex Crime Allegations

By | Sex Crimes

Is Sleep Sex a Real Thing and How Can it Apply to Sexual Allegations?

Sexsomnia Sleep SexYou may have heard of sleepwalking, or sleeptalking, but what about sleep sex? The idea of sleep sex or “sexsomnia” is typically worth a few laughs when you first hear about it, but it is a very real disorder within the parasomnia umbrella of disorders (classified by the DSM-V).  Google it (with caution, of course).  You’ll find many articles discussing real people that suffer from sexsomnia.

What is “Sexsomnia?”

Also called “sleep sex,” sexsomnia is a type of parasomnia, where the brain is caught in transition between sleeping and waking states. As with other parasomnias — including sleepwalking, sleep talking, and, sleep driving — someone who is sleep sexing can seem fully awake and aware, even as he or she is masturbating, or fondling, initiating intercourse with, or even sexually assaulting a bed partner. But he or she truly is asleep.

See Web MD.  There have been several sleep studies and scholarly articles on sleep sex as experts learn more about sexsomnia.

How Does Sleep Sex Apply to a Sex Crime Allegation?

As you can imagine, some criminal defense attorneys have used sexsomnia as a defense to sexual assault allegations. Prosecutors are even being trained on how to overcome the sleep sex defense. But sexsomnia does not apply to every case. The factual allegations often do not support sexsomnia as a viable defense to sexual crimes cases.  But sometimes they do.  An article published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2014 explored 9 criminal cases in which sexsomnia was used as a defense to sexual allegations.  The jury found the defendant not guilty in 7 of the 9 cases.

To establish a viable sexsomnia defense, the defense should be prepared to present witnesses that can establish a pattern of unusual sleep behaviors for the accused.  Further, the defense should look for other things that are known “triggers” for sleep sex, like alcohol use, sleep deprivation, emotional stress, and certain medications. This is a starting point to consider pursuing such a defense and should be coupled with all other typical defense investigatory avenues.

While a sexsomnia defense may cause the jury to chuckle as they think about a person having sex while the person is asleep, it can carry the day if the facts support the defense.  It should not be used as a gimmick.  With the right experts and the right witnesses, a sleep sex defense might just be the truth that sets a person free.

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.

HL Hunt Mansion Dallas Hill v State

Dallas Oil Family’s Dismissal for Vindictive Prosecution Upheld on Appeal

By | Criminal Defense, White Collar

How Far Does the Trial Courts Discretion Go in Determining Whether to Hold a Pretrial Evidentiary Hearing?

HL Hunt Mansion Dallas Hill v StateOn September 21st the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a decision on the oil tycoon heir Albert Hill III’s criminal appeal. The question the Court faced was whether it was in the trial court’s discretion to conduct a pretrial evidentiary hearing on Hill’s motions to quash and dismiss based on prosecutorial vindictiveness. The Court determined that it was within the trial court’s discretion to conduct such a pretrial evidentiary hearing and that discretion was not limited by the defendant meeting “a certain threshold evidentiary requirement.”

Court Opinion: State of Texas v. Albert Hill (Tex. Crim. App. 2016)

The Facts | Trial Court Finds Dallas DA’s Actions Improper

Appellant Hill is the great-grandson of legendary Dallas oil billionaire H.L. Hunt and the events surrounding the indictment dealt with a multi-million dollar trust litigation between Hill and his father. Hill and his wife Erin were indicted in 2011 for making false and misleading statements in order to obtain a $500,000 mortgage from Omni American Bank. The indictment came shortly after Hill won in the trust litigation against his father. Prior to the indictment (but after Albert Hill’s victory in the trust litigation) Hill’s father’s attorney, Michael Lynn delivered a memo to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office which alleged various offenses committed by Hill and his wife. Hill challenged these charges by filing a motion to quash the indictment and a motion to dismiss. Hill argued that the District Attorney, Craig Watkins, was under the influence of his disgruntled father as well as Lisa Blue Baron, one of Hill’s attorneys in the trust litigation case that had just filed a lawsuit against Hill seeking several million dollars in legal fees.

Some items of interest that the court noted were:

  • Lisa Blue Baron exchanged several phone calls and text messages with Watkins leading up to the indictment;
  • Michael Lynn’s law partner donated $48,500 to Watkins’ campaign prior to the indictment;
  • Lisa Blue Baron made a $100,000 donation to SMU LAW in Watkins’ honor after the indictment;
  • Lisa Blue Baron also held a fundraising event for Watkins’ campaign at her house and made a $5,000 donation to the campaign.

The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Hill’s motions and granted both the motion to quash and the motion to dismiss.

The Court of Appeals Reversed the Trial Court’s Decision

The Fifth Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissals holding that the trial court “erred in conducting a hearing on Hill’s motion to dismiss.” The State argued that the trial court should not have held a pretrial evidentiary hearing because Hill failed to prove, with evidence, a prima facie case of prosecutorial misconduct and vindictiveness. The Court of Appeals stated that before a pretrial evidentiary can be held for a defendant claiming a violation of his constitutional rights, the defendant must “present facts sufficient to create a reasonable doubt about the constitutionality of his prosecution.” The Court of Appeals found that Hill did not sufficiently meet this standard.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Disagrees with the Court of Appeals, holds that Trial Courts Have Sound Discretion to Conduct a Pretrial Evidentiary Hearing

1. Article 28.01 – The CCA points to Article 28.01 in determining that the trial court had the discretion to hold a pretrial hearing on Hill’s motions to quash and suppress. Article 28.01 §1 provides that a trial court “may set any criminal case for a pre-trial hearing” and that some of things that the pre-trial hearing shall be to determine is the “pleadings of the defendant,’ ‘exceptions to the form or substance of the indictment,’ or discovery.’” Article 28.01 §1(1), (2), (4), (8). Additionally, while Article 28.01 does not expressly provide for an evidentiary hearing on a motion to dismiss like it does for a motion to suppress, the Court determined that it would be a misapplication of the rules of statutory construction to decide that oral testimony cannot be used in a pretrial hearing to resolve any other issue raised.

2. Case Law – The Court supported its Article 28.01 decision with the Court’s decision in Neal v. State which held that a defendant is required to “preserve a complaint of vindictive prosecution by filing a pretrial motion to quash and dismiss.” 150 S.W.3d 169. With that decision in mind the Court said “it would make no sense to limit the trial court’s discretion to hold an evidentiary hearing on such motion.”

The State pointed to federal case law that provided defendant must make a prima facie case that raised a reasonable doubt. However, these cases dealt with the issue of whether the trial court erred by denying a pretrial hearing. Thus, the Court stated that this case law is not on point in Hill’s case and thus are not controlling on this issue, and do not persuade the Court to hold otherwise.

Decision of the Criminal Court of Appeals | The Trial Court’s Discretion is Not Limited

The CCA determined that Article 28.01 has no limiting factor on the judge’s discretion to hold a pretrial evidentiary hearing based on any threshold evidentiary standard. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in conducting the pretrial evidentiary hearing in Hill’s case but instead acted within its bounds of sound discretion.

Evil Clown Scare Texas

Hold Your Fire…Don’t Shoot the Clowns! Yet.

By | Self-Defense

Evil Clown Scare TexasRecently, a friend asked me if it was legal for individuals to dress as clowns and scare the public. He also wanted to know what would happen if he were frightened by one of these clowns and shot the clown. While not asking the latter in complete seriousness, these questions do bring up potential criminal law issues.

Is it Legal to Dress as a Clown in Public?

There’s no state law that we’re aware of that makes dressing up like a clown in public per se illegal.

The only potential laws that may be applicable to these situations would be individual city ordinances. A search of city codes in a handful of Texas towns around the Metroplex reveals no ordinance specifically prohibiting dressing like a clown in public. The only codes we are able to find related to costumes primarily had to do with a prohibition on costumes which fail to cover private areas in regards to sexually oriented businesses.

While dressing like a clown doesn’t appear to be per se prohibited, there is certainly the risk of breaking other laws while dressed as a clown. In addition, dressing like a clown in public and creating unnecessary alarm or panic could be deemed as disorderly conduct.

Texas Penal Code, Chapter 42 lays out a list of behaviors that could constitute up to a Class B misdemeanor. Class B misdemeanors can carry a penalty of up to 6 months in jail and up to a $2,000 fine. Sec. 42.01 (a)(2) states that a person commits an offense [of disorderly conduct] if he intentionally or knowingly makes an offensive gesture or display in a public place, and the gesture or display tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace. An offense of this nature is a Class C misdemeanor and carries the possibility of up to a $500.00 fine.

Can I use Deadly Force Against the Clown?

Let’s start with the simple answer of “NO”. While individuals may be suffering from coulrophobia (the fear of clowns), this condition does not give you a right to use deadly force – or any force for that matter – against an individual simply because he or she is standing in public dressed as a clown.

The more complex answer of “maybe” would have to do with the use of force for self-defense purposes. Section 9.31 of the Texas Penal Code provides for a justifiable defense at the time of trial for self-defense, so long as the type of force used is reasonable and necessary in the moment to protect against an attacker. Under this law, the actor must reasonably believe that the force is reasonably necessary to protect against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force. Simply observing a clown, with no weapon or threat to use a weapon, provides no grounds to use force – much less deadly force – against that clown.

In addition, the Penal Code does establish that force may be used to protect one’s own property. A person in “lawful possession” of real property or personal property is justified in using force if “the actor reasonably believes the force is reasonably necessary to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on the land…” However, the use of deadly force to protect one’s own property is limited. “A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or property if (1) he is justified under TPC §9.41; (2) he reasonably believes using the force is immediately necessary to prevent commission of arson, burglary, or robbery; and, (3) the actor reasonably believes that the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means [such as by calling law enforcement]. Tex. Penal Code Section 9.42.

Using force for self-defense purposes is a serious response to dangerous and threatening situations – but certainly not an appropriate response to being “creeped” out.

Bottom Line | Do Not Shoot the Clown (Yet)

Dressing up as a clown and causing fear amongst the public is a stupid (and perhaps even illegal) idea. Our attorneys would advise you strongly against it. You certainly place yourself in the position of having your behavior scrutinized by law enforcement for any potential illegal activity. And, if you’re simply afraid of clowns, do your defense attorney a favor and please do not shoot them.  BUT…If the clown lays a hand on you or chases you through a park, all bets are off. You may use force against the clown to avoid an assault.