HOUSTON JUVENILE LAW ATTORNEY
I assist families whose children are accused of criminal or delinquent behavior in Houston and the surrounding counties. There are a few things every parent should know about the juvenile justice system.
Juvenile Law is a Mix of Family and Criminal Law
Juvenile law is unique in that it combines parts of the family and criminal laws of Texas. Unlike the adult criminal justice system, the juvenile system is focused on rehabilitation, not just punishment. In other words, juveniles are not “convicted” of crimes but instead are “adjudicated” as having engaged in delinquent behavior. Similarly, juvenile offenders are not released on bail or bond. Instead, they are released to their parents’ custody or otherwise detained. An early hearing will be held to determine whether the child should continue to be detained or not. It is important for the juvenile to be represented by an attorney at all detention hearings.
It has also become routine to charge juveniles with Class C misdemeanors in Justice courts or municipal courts. While your child may still be under the age of 17, these are adult courts and a conviction there will follow them for the rest of their lives. It is critical that if you have a teenager (or even a young adult up to the age of 21) facing a criminal (i.e., non-traffic) Class C misdemeanor that you hire an attorney to represent them. Because Class C misdemeanors do not carry jail time as punishment, your child is not entitled to a court-appointed attorney in those courts. Common charges against juveniles and young adults include possession of drug paraphernalia, simple assault, family violence assault, minor in possession, minor in consumption, minor DUI, and shoplifting.
Juvenile Records Matter
While the juvenile system is aimed towards rehabilitation, a juvenile record or adjudication can follow your child into adulthood. As a result, it could affect his or her chances for college admission, service in the military, obtaining employment, and finding housing.
Chapter 59 of the Texas Family Code (the Progressive Sanctions Model) assigns punishment levels based on a child’s offense, history of past delinquent conduct, any special needs, and the success or failure of past punishment. Under Chapter 59, the punishments vary from Level One (court counseling and parental monitoring) to Level Seven (at least one year of detention followed by parole for at least another year, and restitution or community service).
Certification as an Adult
In addition to juvenile punishment, the current Texas law allows prosecutors to have juveniles “certified” as adults, which means that children as young as 14 or 15 can be transferred to adult courts and eventually sentenced to up to 40 years in an adult prison facility.
It is imperative that any child is represented by an attorney during all juvenile proceedings.