Juvenile Law in Texas

As experienced defense attorneys, we understand the unique challenges involved in representing young individuals facing legal issues. We prioritize providing effective and compassionate representation for juveniles in the state of Texas. As in other legal jurisdictions, the Texas Juvenile Justice System is both complex and multifaceted, but differs from the adult judicial system in that the juvenile system places more importance on addressing the needs of offenders and the general public. For example, the terminology that is used in the juvenile system is less harsh than the criminal system. Juveniles are not arrested, they are detained; juveniles are not defendants, they are respondents; juveniles are not found guilty, they are adjudicated. This blog acts as a resource for introductory information regarding the Juvenile Justice System, however, we strongly recommend consulting with an experienced Juvenile Justice attorney to fully evaluate and discuss the specifics of your case.

Juvenile Detention Process

Once a juvenile is detained by law enforcement, the resulting process involves various entities, including law enforcement, probation authorities, and the courts. The steps of the Juvenile Detention Process start with an initial detention and can go different ways depending on various factors.

When a juvenile is taken into custody by law enforcement, they may temporarily be held in a secure detention facility. Law enforcement may continue to detain a child if there are reasonable grounds to believe delinquent conduct or court ordered violations have been committed.

During this initial detention, Law Enforcement Officers will perform an Intake Screening, which is conducted to assess the juvenile’s needs, risk level, and/or to gather any relevant information. Based on the results of this screening, officers will decide whether the juvenile shall be released or be required to attend a detention hearing.

The Family Code requires that a request for a detention hearing be made and presented to the juvenile court. Detention hearings without a jury must be held not later than the second (2) working day after the child is taken into custody. These hearings are informal, but the child must be represented by a lawyer and notice of the hearing, either oral or written, must be given to the child and, if located, the parents, legal guardian, or custodian. After a hearing is held, a child must be released unless the judge finds the child is

  • Likely to abscond; or
  • Lacks adequate supervision; or
  • Lacks a parent/other guardian to return him/her to court when required; or
  • Is a danger to him/herself or may threaten the public safety; or
  • Was previously adjudicated for delinquent conduct and is likely to commit an offense if released.

If the judge determines detention is not necessary, the juvenile may be released to a parent or legal guardian or placed in a secure alternative with specific conditions. If a judge determines continued detention is warranted, the juvenile may remain in secure detention until further proceedings, such as adjudication and/or disposition. Juveniles are entitled to a new detention hearing every 2 weeks for the judge to make a determination on whether they will be released.

Progressive Sanctions Model

The Progressive Sanctions Model serves as a guideline to evaluate how serious a charge is and the available outcomes based on the type of charge. It was designed to give juveniles a chance to rehabilitate themselves before something serious happens that could have lasting effects on their life. The Progressive Sanctions Model consists of 7 levels that get progressively more serious. Below, you can evaluate what level a juvenile will be in based on the charge, and see some general outcomes that are available based on the charge. Remember, this is just a guideline and might not apply to your specific case.

  1. Level 1 is applied when a juvenile commits conduct that indicates a need for supervision and includes most Class A and Class B misdemeanors. This level of offense may require counseling for offenses such as runaway and truancy.
  1. Level 2 is applied when a juvenile commits conduct that indicates a need for supervision which incudes Class A and Class B misdemeanors, but the law makes a differentiation on what they consider to be more serious conduct that indicates a need for supervision. This includes inhalation of fumes from things such as paint and an act that violates a school district’s policies that results in the juvenile being expelled. This level of offense may result in placement of the juvenile in the Deferred Prosecution Program.
  1. Level 3 is applied for misdemeanors involving the use or possession of a firearm, as well as state jail felonies and felonies of the third degree. This level of offense may result in formal probation for a minimum of (6) months.
  1. Level 4 is applied for Second Degree Felonies. This level of offense may require (3) to (12) months in an intensive probation program, followed by standard probation.
  1. Level 5 is applied for First Degree felonies that do not involve the use of a deadly weapon or causing serious bodily injury. This level of offense may require (6) to (12) months in a highly structured correctional facility, followed by a probationary period.
  1. Level 6 is applied for First Degree Felonies that do involve the use of a deadly weapon or that cause serious bodily injury. Level 6 also includes aggravated controlled substance Felony and Capital Felonies. This level of offense may require commitment to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department for (9) to (24) months.
  1. Level 7 is applied to the same offenses listed in Level 6, but only when a petition has been approved by a Grand Jury under Section 53.045, or if a petition to transfer the juvenile to criminal adult court has been filed. This level of offense may result in a determinate sentence to the Texas Youth Commission for (1) to (10) years, with possibility of transfer to an adult facility, or a court/jury may impose determinate probation for up to but not exceeding (10) years.

Court Proceedings

After the initial Intake Process and Detention Hearing, if the court charges a juvenile with delinquent conduct, the juvenile is provided the same legal rights as adults charged with an offense. The court may also consider possible disposition outcomes to provide consequences, interventions, and attempts to rehabilitate the child through probation or commitment to TJJD and/or other alternatives.

The court may place the juvenile on probation, involving supervision by a probation officer. Aims of probation include support, guidance, and rehabilitation for minors to avoid future delinquent behavior. Some common conditions associated with juvenile probation include curfews, counseling, regular check-ins, community service, and educational programs. If a child breaks any of the terms of the probational agreement, they may be returned to juvenile court for a hearing to modify or revoke the probation.

Sealing Recordings

Sealing records for juvenile offenders plays a crucial role in giving young individuals a second chance and promoting their successful reintegration into society. It recognizes the unique nature of juvenile offenses and acknowledges that young people have the potential to learn from their mistakes and grow into responsible adults. By sealing records, we help protect their privacy, preserve their future opportunities, and prevent the stigma associated with past offenses from hindering their personal and professional development. Sealing records for juvenile offenders is not only an act of fairness but also a step towards fostering rehabilitation and providing a pathway to a brighter future.

The first step is to determine whether a juvenile is legally eligible for sealing. Eligibility factors include the type of offense, age of the juvenile, and time since the offense occurred. If a juvenile is eligible for sealing, their defense attorney must file a petition with the court asking for their records to be sealed. It is essential to have an experienced Juvenile Justice Attorney handling the sealing process to navigate the many complexities associated with the system as well as to provide advice in the unique circumstances of the juvenile’s case.

The Texas Juvenile Justice System is a complex and multifaceted system which requires ongoing adjustments and collaboration to ensure effective administration of justice across the state. Therefore, it is essential to meet with an experienced juvenile justice attorney to fully evaluate and discuss the unique circumstances of your case. McDaniel Law Group has extensive experience handling juvenile cases and understands how crucial a favorable outcome is to ensure that one mistake will not follow a juvenile around for the rest of their life. Our commitment to excellence sets us apart and makes us the right choice for any of your legal needs.