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Juvenile Crimes under Texas Law

For many parents, the arrest of a child is a worst-case scenario. If your child has recently been arrested, you probably have many questions: will your child face jail time? How does the juvenile justice system differ from the adult justice system? How will this arrest or conviction change your child’s life or future? An experienced and knowledgeable juvenile defense attorney can answer these questions for you.

Many young people assume that they will not need legal representation when charged with a juvenile offense. In fact, juvenile offenses can carry some serious penalties, which will affect the child’s life now and into the future. Contacting an attorney is one of the best things a parent can do to ensure that their child’s rights and future are protected. A competent attorney can do much more than represent your child in front of the judge. Your attorney can walk your family through the system, explain your options, and listen to you.

If your child has been arrested for any juvenile offense in Houston, Harris County or The Woodlands in Montgomery County then contact juvenile defense attorney Matt Horak to discuss all the fact and circumstances of your child’s case. Never allow your child to speak to any law enforcement officer until after you have spoken to an attorney. Your child can invoke his or her right to remain silent by simply saying “I do not wish to make any statement until after I have spoken to an attorney.”

Houston Juvenile Defense Attorney

Juveniles under the age of 18 can be charged with a number of different misdemeanor or felony offenses in the state of Texas. Matt Horak has dedicated his practice exclusively to criminal defense and he is experienced in representing youths who have been charged with a variety of criminal offenses, including:

  • Traffic-Related Crimes – Juvenile DWI, Reckless Driving, Driving While License Suspended or Leaving the Scene (Hit and Run)
  • Drug-Related Charges – Juvenile Possession of Alcohol, Possession of Drugs or Alcohol on School Grounds, Possession of a Controlled Substance, or Drug Paraphernalia
  • Marijuana-Related Juvenile Charges – Possession of Marijuana, Felony Possession, or Sale or Delivery of Marijuana
  • Violent Juvenile Crimes – Assault and Battery, Aggravated Assault, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, or Weapon Possession on School Grounds
  • Juvenile Theft and Property Crimes – Shoplifting, Vandalism, Arson, Theft, or Dealing in Stolen Property
  • Juvenile Sex Crimes – Sexting, Sexual Assault, Battery, Lewd and Lascivious, Indecent Exposure or any other sexually motivated crime allegedly committed by a juvenile on a younger child

If your child has been charged with any of these criminal offenses, it’s important to seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney who’s experienced in representing minors in the juvenile court system throughout the greater Houston area.

Horak Law represents children charged with juvenile offenses anywhere in the greater Houston area, including Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Waller, Brazoria, Galveston, and Liberty Counties. Mr. Horak has the experience and expertise needed to ensure that this arrest is merely a stepping stone in your child’s life and not the end of their opportunities for the future. If your child has been arrested or charged with a crime in Houston or the surrounding areas, you should contact our office immediately at (713) 225-8000.

Texas Juvenile Crime Information Center

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The Juvenile Justice System in Texas

In Texas, a child is defined as a person who is between the ages of 10 and 17. If a person between the ages of 10 and 17 is arrested, or a person between the ages of 17 and 18 is arrested for conduct they engaged in before their 17th birthday, he or she will usually be tried as a child in juvenile court.

When the child is arrested, the juvenile probation department will conduct an “intake”. The intake process is used to determine if the offender meets the definition of “child” described above and if there is probable cause to believe that the child committed the offense. During intake, it will also be decided whether the child will be detained prior to trial.

There is a presumption that the child will be released pending trial. However, if any of the following criteria are met, the child will be detained:

  • the child is likely to leave/be taken from the court’s jurisdiction;
  • the child has no parent or guardian, or does not receive adequate supervision or care from their parent/guardian;
  • the child is a danger to himself or others; or
  • the child has a previous conviction.

If the child is detained, two hearings will quickly be held in juvenile court throughout the greater Houston area including in Harris County, The Woodlands in Montgomery County, TX (or any surrounding county). First, a probable cause hearing will be held within 48 hours. Then a detention hearing will be held within 1-2 business days. Subsequent detention hearings will be held every 10-15 days, to determine if the child should continue to be held pending trial.

The child will face a two-part trial. The first part is called the adjudication phase. During this phase, a jury will determine whether the child committed the offense or not. Children are not found “guilty” or “not guilty”; rather, the jury will decide whether the petition (charges) against the child is “true” or “not true.” In order to find “true”, the decision must be unanimous.

If the child decides not to go through with the adjudication phase of the trial, he or she may enter a “stipulation”, which is equivalent to pleading guilty. The trial will progress directly to disposition.

The second part of the trial is the disposition (sentencing) phase. The child usually will not have the right to a jury at this phase. The judge will decide which punishments the child will receive.

The biggest difference between the adult and juvenile justice systems is that the main focus of the juvenile justice system is the rehabilitation of the child. Although the child will face punishment, the purpose of that punishment is to teach the child and change his or her behavior patterns. The adult justice system is focused on punishing the offender and does not have this strong rehabilitation and education component.

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Common Juvenile Offenses and Punishments under Texas Law

  • Juvenile Possession of Marijuana: depending on the amount of marijuana the child was in possession of, whether the offense was aggravated by other factors, or whether the child was in possession of the substance in a drug-free school zone, punishment could vary widely. The child could face driver’s license suspension, probation, or even incarceration. Of course, if the child is convicted, he or she might be subject to other, non-judicial consequences, such as trouble getting into college or obtaining employment.
  • Juvenile Drug Charges: again, the consequences for juvenile drug charges depend on many factors. Your attorney can assess the possibilities based on your child’s circumstances and history.
  • Juvenile DWI: a child convicted of DWI will almost certainly have his or her driver’s license suspended. Other punishments and consequences depend on the child’s circumstances. Common consequences include probation and community service.
  • Juvenile Violation of Probation: if the child violates the terms of his or her probation, he or she will be returned to court for further adjudication. The child’s probation may be revoked, and he or she might face incarceration.

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Juveniles Tried as Adults in Texas

In some cases, the child may be certified as an adult under Texas law. That means that the child will stand trial as an adult and be subject to the same punishments as an adult, except that a child cannot be sentenced to death for crimes committed before the age of 17.

Children are usually certified as adults because they have committed a very serious offense, or because they are chronic offenders. Usually, a child cannot be certified as an adult for offenses committed before the age of 15. However, a child 14 or over may be certified as an adult for capital offenses, aggravated controlled substance felonies, or first degree felonies.

It is generally advantageous for a young person to be tried as a child. The possible punishments for children tend to be less harsh than those for adults, and the criminal records of children are more difficult to access. A competent juvenile defense attorney will do everything he or she can to assure that your child stands trial in the juvenile justice system, and is not certified as an adult.

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What to Do if Your Child is Arrested

If your child is arrested, you have a limited amount of time to protect their rights. The most important thing you should do is contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney immediately before the child makes any statement to law enforcement.

You and your attorney should discuss all of the circumstances of your child’s arrest and the offense he or she is being charged with. This includes your child’s age; the date, time and place of the arrest; your child’s criminal history; and what happened during or after the arrest. Your attorney will use this information to determine whether the police had probable cause to arrest your child, whether the child might be detained prior to trial, and how to best defend your child at trial.

You might also use this arrest as an opportunity to re-assess your relationship with your child. In some cases, the arrest may be the culmination of many years of behavioral or substance abuse problems, while for other parents the arrest is the first indication that their child is troubled. Many parents find that the arrest becomes a “teachable moment” for the entire family. For example, some parents use a drug arrest as an opportunity to speak with all of their children about the dangers of substance abuse, as well as seek out counseling or treatment for the child who was arrested.

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Consequences of Juvenile Crime

The court or probation department can impose a wide range of punishments (dispositions) depending on the child’s age, the nature of the crime, and whether this is the child’s first offense. Your Texas juvenile defense attorney can counsel you regarding which dispositions your child is likely to receive. Some options include:

  • Supervisory caution: the child is counseled by the probation department, who may also refer the child/family to social services.
  • Deferred prosecution: a 6 month voluntary probation period. If the child violates the terms of the probation, then the case will be prosecuted.
  • Commitment (incarceration) by the Texas Youth Commission, with the possible transfer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, once the child reaches the age of 21. How long the child will be incarcerated, whether they will be eligible for early release, and whether they will be transferred to the TDCJ as an adult all depends on the child’s criminal history and the nature of the crime committed.
  • Probation (either in the home, in foster care, or in another program) until the age of 18. This will almost always include mandatory community service.
  • Suspension of driver’s license
  • Restitution: having to pay the victim or the victim’s family money.
  • Community Service

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Juvenile Records

Access to juvenile records is limited. However, records can still be accessed by police and other criminal justice professionals, as well as some employers and educational organizations.

It is possible for a child’s records to be placed on “restricted access” if certain criteria are met. This does not mean that the records are sealed or destroyed, but it does mean that only criminal justice professionals will have access to the records. If anyone else (such as an employer or school) attempts to access the records, they will be told the records do not exist.

A child’s records will be placed on “restricted access” when the child turns 21 if the child has not been convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for a class A or B misdemeanor or a felony since their 17th birthday. However, if the child commits a crime after the records are placed under restricted access, the records will be removed from restricted access.

This is only one option for having the child’s records made less accessible or inaccessible. For example, the child may petition the court to have his or her records sealed or expunged. You should speak to your attorney about the options for ensuring that your child’s criminal history does not destroy their future as an adult.

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Texas Juvenile Justice Resources

Montgomery County Juvenile Services (probation):

200 Academy Dr.
Conroe, TX 77301
(936) 760-5805

Harris County District Courts (with juvenile jurisdiction):

Harris County Juvenile Probation Department

1200 Congress Rd.
Houston, TX 77002
(713) 222- 4100

Texas Youth Commission’s Guide to Juvenile Records – A guide to understanding who has access to your child’s juvenile records

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Horak Law | Texas Juvenile Defense Attorney

There are no minor criminal offenses or proceedings. If your child is arrested, your time to protect their rights and their future is limited. You should contact the Law Offices of Matt Horak immediately to schedule a consultation. Call Horak Law today at (713) 225-8000. Houston criminal defense attorney Matt Horak represents juvenile defendants in Houston Texas and the surrounding areas, including Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Galveston, Liberty, and Waller Counties.

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  • Texas Board of Legal Specialization | Criminal Law
  • National College for DUI Defense
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Laywers
  • Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association
  • Matt Horak has earned recognition for community leadership by Lawyer Legion