Answers to Commonly Asked Texas Juvenile Law Questions
Is juvenile court different from adult court?
Yes. And not all attorneys know this. If your case involves a child between the ages of 10 and 17 is will be handled in the juvenile district or county court. Cases that involve children are not criminal cases- they are “civil” cases. While an adult or someone tried as an adult may receive a guilty verdict, a child will not. A child’s case will be “adjudicated to have engaged in delinquent conduct”. Bond is another matter. Offenders under the age of 17 are not released on “bond.” Whether they are held or released is very dependent on the details of their case and the way it is presented. Juvenile court also differs from adult court because there are different guidelines used to punish, rehabilitate or discipline juvenile offenders.
What is a First Offender Program?
There are many instances where a teenager does something impulsive or because of peer pressure. When the offense is non-violent and not a felony charge the child may instead of going to court be referred to a diversion program. Instead of fines and jail time, the child will perform community services, get additional education, take steps toward rehabilitation or offer restitution to victims.
What does adjudicated mean?
Adjudicated is a term used in juvenile court when the offender is found to have committed the crime. It means the same things as “found guilty” does in adult court.
What is the court process after being charged?
The first court appearance is called an “arraignment.” Your attorney will review police reports and the evidence against you. Your attorney will also confirm any other information that is in your file, such as employment history, school records, and any other relevant personal history. This is also when plea bargains happen.
There are instances when more information is needed to present a strong defense. In these instances, your attorney will let you know if more time is needed. At The Law Office of Larry P. McDougal, we understand how stressful it can be to have to wait. We take the steps necessary to get you the most favorable outcome.
What happens if a juvenile is found guilty?
If a court, judge or jury finds that your child has “engaged in delinquent conduct” then your child will either be given probation or put in a juvenile facility. With very serious or violent offenses, a juvenile may have a transfer hearing to be charged as an adult.
Will my child be charged as an adult?
If your child is 17 it is very likely they will be charged as an adult in Texas. However, if passed, House Bill 344, the “Raise the Age” bill, would prevent 17-year-olds from being prosecuted as adults.
Texas still treats 17-year-olds as adults, even for non-violent and misdemeanor offenses. Depending on the circumstances and the nature of the crime, kids as young as 14 can be tried as adults in our state. This process is known as a transfer hearing. The purpose of a transfer hearing is to transfer the case to the adult court system. This is not a good thing for the offender. We know that younger offenders are more open to and positively affected by rehabilitation. Not having a criminal record can mean more opportunities for military service, a college education, jobs, and even housing. An attorney who works in juvenile criminal defense knows the steps to take to ensure that, if possible, these young offenders are treated as juveniles, not adults in the Texas legal system.
Do I have to hire a lawyer for my child?
One way or another, yes. If your child is charged with a crime in Texas Children then that child must be represented by a lawyer during most proceedings. If you do not hire your own attorney a judge will typically appoint a juvenile defense lawyer for the child. This is not free. You will have to reimburse the county for the lawyer’s fees.
Why should I hire an attorney who focuses on juvenile defense?
An attorney who understands not only the different rules and procedures but also the long-term consequences of any type of conviction. At our firm,281-238-8514 we have nearly three decades of experience. Larry McDougal Sr worked as a sheriff, prosecutor and judge. He knows the system and the options and can guide you on what steps to take and what to avoid. When so much is on the line it makes sense to seek quality representation.
Is it possible to seal my child’s record?
In most cases, yes. If no more offenses are committed after the initial offense, then, after a two-year waiting period, or when the juvenile turns 18, a judge can be petitioned to seal the records. After a felony offense, the juvenile must wait until they are 21 to request this.
What happens when records are sealed?
When records are sealed it is as if nothing ever happened before. You can live your life as if you were never involved in or found guilty of an offense. You are not legally obligated to tell employers or licensing organizations or schools or anyone about those charges. You can answer “no” if asked if you were ever charged with a crime.
Do I need to post a bond for my child?
No, juvenile offenders in Texas are never released on “bond.” Your child will either be further detained or released into your custody.
My child was charged with a crime but the police brought the child home. What happens next?
After your child is released into parental custody, the police file a report and send the information to the District Attorney (DA). The DA files a petition with the juvenile courts. You are then “served” papers by a Deputy Constable (who typically comes to your home). You and your child must appear in court on a set day. A probation officer will then contact you. The best way to protect your child is to contact a juvenile criminal defense attorney as soon as possible- the same day as the police release your child to you.
How does the court decide whether to detain or release a juvenile?
In Texas there are several factors the court considers:
- If the juvenile is flight risk
- If the child is a danger to themselves or others
- If the juvenile will be monitored by a parent or guardian and brought back to the court by that person
- The previous charges or record of the juvenile
A parent or trusted guardian should attend the detention hearing so that if release is an option it can happen at that hearing.
Get the Answers You Need
Worried, confused or feel like there is no hope for your child. We can help. With over 40 years of experience in criminal law– including years working as a prosecutor and sheriff and judge,Larry McDougal Sr understands your struggle and knows what can be done to help.