Sentencing juveniles as adults may not be in the interest of justice in every case. Many factors, including the crime itself, must be taken into account when making this decision. While it may be a politically popular decision to make for a district attorney’s office, trying a juvenile as an adult may not be in the best interest of the child. Texas permits a child to be tried as an adult in certain circumstances. Texas law also allows the state to seek a “determinate sentence” of a juvenile. This is the type of sentence Tarrant prosecutors sought for Ethan Couch. Judges face difficult decisions when trying to appropriately sentence a juvenile because many factors, including the age of the child, must be considered. The Fulgham Law Firm defends juveniles who are thrust into the justice system and can help if your child is facing criminal charges and is being charges as an adult even though they are underage.
The State of Texas permits the government to charge juveniles charged with certain crimes as if they were adults. In Texas, a juvenile court may give up jurisdiction of a case if the child who is 14 or older at the time of the offense has been charged with a “capital felony, an aggravated controlled substance felony, or a first-degree felony.” If the juvenile court finds “probable cause” to transfer the case to district court or criminal court, then the child may be tried—and sentenced—as an adult. A child who is 15 or older may have his case transferred out of juvenile court is there is probable cause to believe that the child committed a second-degree felony, a third-degree felony, or a state-jail felony, in addition to capital and first-degree felonies. Upon conviction, the judge or jury may sentence the child tried as an adult to be sentenced by an adult.
In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles convicted of felony murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole was cruel and unusual punishment. The case involved Alabama and Arkansas statutes which mandated that any person convicted of felony-murder was sentenced to life in prison without regard to individualized sentencing and the possibility, not the guarantee, of parole. In reaching that conclusion, the Court stated that juveniles must be treated differently than adults because juveniles have “diminished capacity and greater prospects of reform.” The Court found that juveniles are more susceptible to negative peer pressure and family pressure. Although these conclusions seem like “common sense,” the Court found support for its conclusion in scientific research. The research proved that juveniles are more prone to risk taking, are unable to comprehend potential consequences, and may act rashly. Studies also showed that children who are juvenile offenders are not necessarily doomed to a life of crime. Therefore, the Court held that juveniles have a “diminished capacity” and must be sentenced differently than adults, even for the most horrific crimes.
A juvenile judge must consider several factors when deciding whether a juvenile may be tried as an adult. These factors are substantially similar to those the U.S. Supreme Court considered. By statute the juvenile judge must consider whether the crime was against person or property, maturity of child, record of criminal activity, whether the juvenile is a danger to the community, and whether the juvenile can be rehabilitated in the juvenile system.
Your Child Still Has A Future
Juvenile & criminal defense attorney Brandon Fulgham is experienced in fighting for the rights of minors facing adult criminal charges. Fulgham will stand up for your child’s rights and fight to prevent your child from being tried and sentenced like an adult. Although attitudes toward juvenile justice are changing, your child needs a tough, reliable advocate on their side. Call Fort Worth criminal defense attorney Brandon Fulgham today at 817-764-1392 to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation.