JUVENILE LAW

The Basics Every Parent Should Know.

(Some text forwarded from a State sponsored website.)

Juvenile cases may include charges that a child is delinquent, dependent, or in need of supervision. A delinquent child is a one who has committed an offense which, if that child were an adult, would be considered a crime. A dependent child is a one who is orphaned, neglected, or abused and in need of care. A Child in need of supervision (CHINS) is one who committed an act which, if the child was an adult, would not be classified as a crime, but is in need of care or rehabilitation. A child in need of supervision may be habitually truant, disobedient to his parents, or a runaway. A serious juvenile offender is a child adjudicated to be delinquent and the delinquent acts charged in the petition would be similar to an adult committing a Class A felony, a felony resulting in serious physical injury, or a felony involving physical force, a deadly weapon, or a dangerous instrument. A child adjudicated to be a serious juvenile offender must be committed to the Department of Youth Services for a minimum of one year. A multiple needs child is one coming to the court’s attention who is at risk of being placed in a more restrictive environment because of emotional or mental problems, dependency, delinquency, or alcohol or drug dependency and whose needs require the services of two or more state agencies. These children are referred by the court to the county children’s services facilitation team for evaluation and recommended service plan. The court may accept or modify the service plan if the court determines it is in the best interest of the child to do so and order the provision of the services.

How do Juvenile Cases Get Filed?

An individual, including a law enforcement officer, a parent, a relative, or a neighbor, who has knowledge that a juvenile has committed a delinquent act, is in need of supervision, or independent, may file a complaint with the juvenile court. A juvenile intake officer will review the complaint to ensure that it is sufficient and that the court has venue and jurisdiction and will decide whether a normal petition will be filed with the court. The intake officer will notify the parents of the child’s detention and advise the child and parents of their rights, including the right to have an attorney present at all proceedings.

One of the most important decisions made by the intake officer is whether or not a child should be released to the custody of the parents or placed in a licensed juvenile detention facility or, in the case of dependency and CHINS cases, placed in the care of the Department of Human Resources under what is termed “shelter care.” Any time a child is detained, a hearing must be held within 72 hours in order that the juvenile judge can determine whether the child should remain in detention or in shelter care or be released into the custody of the parents.

Juveniles committing certain minor and first-time offenses may be handled without judicial action. The intake officer may withhold the filing of a formal delinquency or CHINS petition, and may attempt, with the consent of the child and the parents, to make a satisfactory informal adjustment. Under an informal adjustment, the child and the parents voluntarily agree to abide by conditions established by the intake officer. Such conditions may include counseling, curfew, required attendance at school, or other reasonable conditions. The informal adjustment process cannot continue beyond a period of six months. If the juvenile and the parents abide by the terms of the informal adjustment agreement, no petition will be filed and the charges against the child will be dismissed. If the juvenile or the parents violate the agreement of the informal adjustment, the intake officer may proceed with the filing of a formal petition.

Once the petition is filed, the juvenile case will be set for trial, which, in the juvenile court, is called an adjudication hearing. At any time after the filing of a petition in a delinquency or a need of supervision case and before the holding of the adjudication hearing, the juvenile case may be handled by a consent decree. The consent decree is an agreement between the youth, the parents or guardians, and the judge. Under a consent decree, the proceedings of the court are suspended and the juvenile is placed on probation in accordance with terms and conditions agreed upon by all parties. If the juvenile complies with all conditions of the consent decree, the petition will be discharged. If the juvenile fails to abide by the terms and conditions of the decree, the petition will be reinstated and the case will proceed to adjudication.

The Adjudication Hearing

All juvenile proceedings are confidential, and juvenile trials or adjudication hearings are heard by a judge without a jury. The hearing is closed to the public. Present at the hearing will be the juvenile, the defense attorney, parents or guardians, the district attorney who will represent the state, the victim(s) of the crime, the juvenile probation of officer, and, in dependency cases, a representative of the Department of Human Resources.  At the adjudication hearing, the judge will explain to the parties their rights, the substance of the petition and the specific allegations, the nature of the adjudication hearing, and the alternatives that are available to the court should the allegations be admitted or proven. The court will then inquire of the juvenile whether he or she admits or denies all or some of the allegations contained in the petition. An admission of the allegations is similar to a plea of “guilty” in adult court; a denial of the allegations is similar to a plea of “not guilty.” If a juvenile fails or refuses to admit any of the allegations, the judge will enter a denial.

If the juvenile denies the allegations of the petition, the hearing will continue and the testimony of witnesses will be taken. The procedures for conducting the adjudication hearing are similar to those of a civil bench trial, that is, a trial by a judge without a jury.

At the close of the hearing, the court shall find that either (1) the facts alleged in the petition are true and the child is dependent, in need of supervision, or delinquent and in need of care or rehabilitation or (2) the facts alleged in the petition are not true and the child is not in need of care or rehabilitation, in which event, the petition must be dismissed.

The Disposition Hearing

Following the adjudication hearing, the court will hold a disposition hearing which may be conducted immediately or held at a later date. In delinquency and CHINS cases, the court can transfer legal custody, require public service, place the youth on probation, and/or require restitution. In delinquency cases, the youth may be committed to the Department of Youth Services. The period of time a youth is required to stay with the Department of Youth Services is determined by the department and not by the judge.

Where a child has been found dependent, the court will address the issue of the custody of the child and whether or not the child’s custody should be placed with the parents or with other guardians, or whether the child should be made a ward of the state. In those cases where the custody of the child is removed from the parents, hearings will be held periodically to review the custody issue. This process of judicial review will continue until the child is returned to the custody of the parents, until parental rights are terminated and permanent placement is made, or until the child reaches 21 years of age.

The juvenile court may at any point in the proceedings, make parents or guardians parties in juvenile cases and require the parent or guardian to perform reasonable acts necessary to promote the best interests of the child, such as attending counseling sessions or submitting to random drug screens.

Transfer to Criminal Courts

When a child 14 years of age or older commits an act which would constitute a crime if it were committed by an adult, the district attorney may petition the juvenile court to transfer the youth to the adult court for criminal prosecution.

When a petition for transfer is filed, the juvenile court conducts a hearing to determine whether it is in the best interest of the youth or the public to grant a motion to transfer. If, after hearing all the evidence, the court finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the allegations against the youth are true and correct, and further finds that the youth is not amenable to the services provided through the juvenile court, the court may grant the motion to transfer the case.

A conviction or youthful offender adjudication of a child transferred and tried as an adult terminates the jurisdiction of the juvenile court over pending and future offenses. This is referred to as “once transferred, and convicted, always transferred.”

Appeals

Any aggrieved party, including the state or any subdivision of the state (except in criminal cases, delinquency cases, and CHINS cases), may appeal a decision of the juvenile court. An appeal from the juvenile court is taken to one of the two intermediate appellate courts if there is an adequate record or if the parties stipulate that only questions of law are involved. In cases involving minors or adults, the right to a trial by jury must be waived before an appeal can be made directly to the intermediate appellate courts. If these qualifications are not met, the appeal must be taken to the circuit court where the case will be heard de novo.

Appeals are filed in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in those cases where a child is adjudicated delinquent or where a motion seeking to transfer a child to the criminal court has been granted. All other cases involving children, including CHINS and dependency cases, are appealed to the Texas Court of Civil Appeals.

 Jurisdiction and Exceptions

Juveniles 16 years of age or older who are charged with a capital offense, a Class A felony, a felony which has as an element the use of a deadly weapon or causing the death or serious physical injury of another or a felony using a dangerous instrument against certain officials, or trafficking in drugs are expressly excluded from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. These juveniles must be tried as adults and, if convicted, may not be tried as juveniles for any subsequent offenses.

Venue in Juvenile Cases

In delinquency and in need of supervision cases, the proceedings are held in the county where the acts constituting the alleged offense occurred. In dependency cases, however, the proceedings are held in the county where the child resides or in the county where the child was present when the proceedings began.

Cases involving Minors and Adults in the Juvenile Court

The Juvenile court primarily exercises jurisdiction over children. However, in some instances, minors and adults may come under the jurisdiction of the court. For purposes of determining the juvenile courts jurisdiction an adult is defined as an individual 19 years of age or older. A minor is an individual who is under the age of 19 who is not a “child,” i.e., an 18 year old. Cases involving minors and adults include charges that a minor or adult contributed to the delinquency, dependency, or need of supervision of a child; proceedings to establish paternity of a child; charges of desertion and non-support; and proceedings for the commitment of a mentally ill or retarded minor. The court, after making a preliminary investigation, may try to resolve the issues through informal adjustment, without prosecution. If the issue cannot be resolved informally, the case would be tried in the same manner as any similar case in an adult court, but without a jury.

Tab Lawhorn is a criminal lawyer and partner at Derryberry Zips Wade Lawhorn, PLLC.  He lives in Tyler, Texas with his wife Zoe, his two loving dogs, Noodle and Fathead, and Mancat, his not-so-loving cat.  For a decade, he has fought for the rights of those juveniles who have been wrongfully accused of criminal activity.  He has founded YOURENOTGUILTY.COM and has been an active donor and community volunteer in East Texas ever since.

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