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What to Do If Your Child Breaks a Law in Texas

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If you’re a parent with questions about what to do if your child breaks a law in Texas, you may also want to know about the people, procedures, and places that make up the Texas juvenile justice system.

As a parent, you want to know what to do next.

You’re not alone. Each year, approximately 130,000 children enter the Texas juvenile justice system.

In the state of Texas, children aged 10 to 16 accused of delinquencies or juvenile crimes are introduced to the juvenile justice system. State law regulates the handling of juvenile persons, but probation of juveniles is administered at the local county level.

Is your child facing juvenile crime charges in Texas?
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Juvenile Crime in Texas

Local police may warn the young person and his or her parents for a minor violation. Sometimes, law enforcement must take further action. Other times, it’s essential to protect the child and members of the public—and to prevent the child from committing further offenses—so your child’s case is sent to juvenile probation officials in your county.

A juvenile with an alleged delinquent offense, e.g. a crime that is punishable by incarceration for an adult, is fingerprinted and processed. The child’s fingerprints are then submitted to a state repository. At that point, the child’s criminal history may be accessed by any juvenile justice or law enforcement agency in Texas.

Details of your child’s arrest form a permanent record. This record can follow him or her for many years to come.

Texas Juvenile Probation Intake Unit

Children arrive at the front door of the juvenile probation system’s intake unit 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These young people are sometimes violent, sick, depressed, intoxicated, or injured. Immediate crisis intervention decisions occur right away.

During intake, officers gather information and assess the young person. Some cases are resolved through professional counseling. Others are referred to social agencies. When a charge must be filed in court, decisions concerning where the young individual will stay before judicial proceedings are made. Many juveniles are released to their parent or guardian. Others are held in a shelter or in a secure detention center.

Who are the children entering the Texas Juvenile Probation System?

Children entering the juvenile justice system come from all economic, social, and racial groups. Almost 50 percent are just 14-15 years old. Approximately 75 percent are male.

Many juveniles face minor offenses, such as running away from home or skipping school. At least 33 percent of juveniles face serious offenses, including murder, burglary, or assault. In addition, school problems, drugs or substance abuse, and family violence issues are common.

Texas Juveniles in Detention

A juvenile detention center is intended to serve as a secure, short-term residence for juveniles. These facilities are operated by private companies or local juvenile probation departments.

The juvenile detention center serves to protect the public and the child offender. It also ensures that the child will appear in court at the proper date and time.

As required by Texas law, children held in a detention center must have a detention hearing. A judge considers whether there’s sufficient cause to hold the young person.

Importantly, a child can’t be held without due process.

Fifty-five-plus detention centers throughout the state offer a variety of services to juveniles and families, including custodial care, education, crisis intervention, counseling, and more.

Texas Juveniles Waiting for Court

When any charge is filed against a child, he or she has a probation officer assigned to the case. The probation officer begins the court investigation.

He or she makes a detailed assessment of the young person’s social, family, school, and home relationships, compiling a social history report. The report helps the judge to arrive at a plan for the young person’s future.

Juvenile court proceedings

In a juvenile court proceeding, also known as an adjudication hearing, the young person, his or her family, and the criminal defense lawyer appear in court. A judge and/or jury will now decide the young person’s next steps:

  • If the juvenile is adjudicated for an offense, a disposition (plan prepared to protect the community and to rehabilitate the child) is ordered.
  • A disposition in most Texas counties is based on certain progressive sanction guidelines that hope to guide the juvenile toward positive outcomes and consequences.
  • Alternatively, the court may conclude that the child’s conduct reflects the need for greater supervision.

Juvenile court decisions

The juvenile court judge has many available options. He or she can dismiss the juvenile offender or order long-term confinement in a Texas correctional facility:

  • Youths aged 14-plus may be certified to stand trial in an adult criminal courtroom.
  • The Determinate Sentencing Law allows for a serious juvenile offender to be held in a Texas Youth Commission Facility (to be followed by a potential court transfer to a correctional facility) – for up to 40 years.
  • The judge may mandate an “indeterminate” commitment to a Texas Youth Commission facility, where the youthful offender may be confined until he or she turns 19 years of age.

The judge is likely to order a form of probationary supervision for the young offender in his or her community, or place him or her in a local, private, or state-run residential treatment facility in most cases.

Second chances

The court is likely to provide younger and less serious offenders with a “second chance:”

  • Offenders may be placed in a six-month Deferred Prosecution program that avoids adjudication and additional involvement with the court.

Getting arrested as a child can be very scary for the entire family.
Schedule your free consultation with defense attorney Brett Podolsky >>

Probation is Commonly Ordered

The court is most likely to order probation for the youthful offender. He or she can stay in their home and school. It’s considered less disruptive and less expensive as well.

If the juvenile judge orders probation, the rules include:

  • Good school attendance and conduct
  • Adherence to curfews
  • Participation in certain programs, e.g. community service
  • Financial restitution to victims

The child’s probation officer enforces the rules of probation to help the child and his or her family to create a positive future. The child’s parents are an important facet of the probation program. Because parents and guardians provide financial, social, and emotional support, they’re critical to the child’s successful outcome.

Parents and families receive family counseling, attend support groups, and participate in parent training education programs. These services help families rise to the challenge of supporting their children.

Parent’s liability for a child’s acts

If a child commits an offense “willfully” or “maliciously,” (“knowingly” or “intentionally”), the court may extend civil liability for the child’s acts to his or her parents. The parents’ liability is typically limited to the victim’s ability to recover property (not personal) damages.

Conversely, exposing the child’s parent(s) to criminal liability is possible, but quite rare:

  • If you, the parent, are facing criminal liability, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.
  • If your child (or you) is the victim of another youth’s mischief or malice, report the crime to law enforcement immediately. Contact an experienced attorney now.

Residential placement

Some youthful offenders need more support and supervision. Uncontrolled behavior, substance abuse, mental illness, or a weak family structure may prompt the judge to remove the child from his or her home environment as the last resort.

The court wants to protect the public as it provides necessary treatment and supervision to youthful offenders.

A New Start for Texas Juvenile Offenders

The overarching goal of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department is to provide a new start for the young offender. Successful completion of probation is the first step.

Contact an Experienced Texas Defense Attorney

Parents want the best for their children. A single mistake in youth can have serious and lasting consequences for a son or daughter.

If you have questions about the Texas juvenile justice system, or your child is facing a serious charge, or you are facing a criminal liability as a result of your child (or another child), consult an experienced attorney now.

The Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky is standing by 24/7 at 713-227-0087. Contact Mr. Podolsky to schedule an initial case evaluation.

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