Can Juveniles Be Tried As Adults in Texas?

April 25, 2016 | By Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys
Can Juveniles Be Tried As Adults in Texas?
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Are you or a family member facing a juvenile charge in Texas? Juvenile criminal cases are unique because the standard is different than the adult criminal justice system. It is critical that you know your legal rights and options available to you so that you can be prepared to fight your juvenile criminal charges. In this post, we will cover an overview of the Texas juvenile system. We will discuss how the juvenile system varies from the adult system and the options available to you or your family member if they are facing a juvenile case in Texas.

Who Is A Juvenile Under Texas Law?

Under Texas law, children younger than 17 years of age but older than 10 years of age that have allegedly committed a crime must be tried in a juvenile court. This holds true for the lowest of criminal charges (Class C Misdemeanors) up to capital murder. Texas law states that once a child reaches the age of 17, he or she can now be tried as an adult.

How Does The Texas Juvenile Court System Work?

Although a child may be arrested or detained for allegedly committing a crime, the procedural requirements under Texas law work very differently for juvenile compared to adults. Under Texas law, the Juvenile Justice Code is incorporated into the Texas Family Code. The general standard in juvenile court is that there is a presumption for rehabilitation of the juvenile. The primary question is, “What is in the best interest of the child?”

If the police believe they have probable cause to arrest a juvenile, they are permitted to take the juvenile into custody. Unlike the adult system, the law does not require the police officer to have an arrest warrant before detaining or arresting a juvenile.

What Is A Detention Hearing In Juvenile Court?

Under Texas law, every juvenile that has been arrested or detained has a right to a detention hearing. This is the first step in the juvenile justice system. Texas law requires that the detention hearing be held within 48 hours. Upon arrest, Juvenile law requires the juvenile to be delivered to the juvenile detention center and parents or legal guardians contacted “without unnecessary delay.”

The purpose of the detention hearing is for the juvenile court to determine the nature of the charge and home arrangements and supervision to decide whether to release or detain the juvenile in the facility until his court appearance.

Unlike the adult justice system, the Juvenile Justice provisions under the Family Code do not have a bail process provided. As a result, there is a strict requirement that the detention hearing be conducted no later than 48 hours after being detained. The court will take all due diligence to locate the parents or legal guardians of the juvenile but if they are unable to be reached to be present at the hearing, the juvenile court is required to appoint guardian ad litem to attend the detention hearing on behalf of the juvenile.

How Long Can A Juvenile Be Detained In Texas?

Under Texas juvenile law, a juvenile being detained MUST be released from detention UNLESS the court determines:

  1. The juvenile is high risk to abscond (run away)
  2. The juvenile is not receiving suitable supervision, care or protection from a parent, guardian, or other person.
  3. The juvenile lacks a parent, guardian, custodian, or other person able to return him for required court appearances.
  4. The juvenile may be dangerous to himself or a threat to the safety of the public, if released; or
  5. The juvenile has previously been found to be “delinquent” or received a previous conviction for a crime punishable by a term in jail or prison and is likely to commit an offense if released.

What Happens If A Juvenile Is Denied Release At A Detention Hearing?

If you and your juvenile attorney attended the detention hearing and the judge denied the request for release, your juvenile lawyer can request a detention hearing to be held every 10 days to challenge the ruling that detention is necessary. Please understand that detention hearings are at the discretion of the judge so your juvenile attorney must be diligent in making the request for subsequent detention hearings.

What Happens After A Juvenile Is Released From Detention?

After your juvenile attorney has successfully negotiated the release of the juvenile from custody, the court may choose to impose restrictions and conditions necessary to be followed to remain free. These conditions are like bond conditions in the adult criminal justice system. Many of these conditions fall upon the parents of the guardian because the parents have a duty to supervise and bring the juvenile to court. In fact, it is not uncommon for the judge to place specific requirements and conditions upon the legal guardian present at the detention hearing as a condition of the juvenile’s release. It may not seem fair, but the parents may be held to the same requirements as the juvenile if you want to ensure the juvenile remains out of custody during negotiations.

How Do Juvenile Criminal Charges Work?

To initiate prosecution, the prosecutor must file a petition to initiate the case. The Texas Family Code requires the juvenile prosecutor to file a petition within 30 days from more serious felony charges. If the petition is not timely filed, the juvenile court must release the juvenile from custody. If the charge was not a serious felony, the juvenile prosecutor is required to file a petition within 15 days after the detention hearing date.

Can A Juvenile Case Be Dismissed?

It is possible. It is critical that you hire an experienced and aggressive juvenile attorney to get access to the evidence and sit down with you to explain the process and what is coming for each court setting.  The best juvenile lawyers will get access to the evidence and provide this information to the family and take the time to answer all the questions and generate a customized defense strategy for how to attack the case. Failure to provide this evidence to the client will result in confusion and frustration and the possibility that a defense option is overlooked. The best possibility for a juvenile case to be dismissed is based upon your juvenile lawyer working with the family to understand the evidence and formulate a plan of action.

What Happens At Juvenile Court?

When you appear at juvenile court, it is important to remember that every juvenile must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. If your juvenile lawyer reviews the evidence and helps you determine that you need to contest the allegations, you can set the case for a jury trial.

It is important to remember that although the juvenile has a right to a jury trial, the prosecutor does NOT have the same right under the law.

If the judge or jury believes that the case was proven by the State of Texas, a find will be entered that the juvenile “engaged in delinquent conduct.” This ruling creates a presumption that the juvenile needs rehabilitation. The next step after the jury trial would be the sentencing, which is required to be done by the judge.

The judge must remember that the primary purpose of the juvenile system is to protect the public but also rehabilitate the juvenile.

What Happens At A Juvenile Plea?

If the juvenile attorney and the prosecutor come to an agreement for a plea agreement, the juvenile must stipulate to the evidence and enter a plea of “true” to the criminal allegations.

Sentencing juveniles as adults may not be in the interest of justice in every case.  Many factors, including the crime itself, must be considered when making this decision. The best juvenile lawyers will remind the judge that the purpose of the juvenile system is “to remove, when appropriate, the taint of criminality from children committing certain unlawful acts.” This is a strong argument for the judge to issue a sentence that allows the juvenile to have their records sealed in the future. For more information on this subject, refer to Texas Family Code, Section 58.003.

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.

Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys 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 like 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.


  1. Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012)
  2. Texas Attorney General 2014 Guide to Juvenile Justice Handbook

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