Why Are Some Juveniles Sometimes Tried as Adults?
The State of Texas, like every other state, tries juveniles who are charged with crimes in the juvenile court system. This protocol is because juveniles (those who have not reached the age of 18) are not yet adults in the eyes of the law. However, like many things, this is not always true. Sometimes, a juvenile is tried as an adult. While this is generally predicated on the charge being for a serious violent crime or because the defendant is a repeat offender, it is not always a cut-and-dried matter.
Texas Has Two Separate Court Systems
Like every other state in the nation, Texas has two court systems. These include the adult criminal court system and the juvenile court system, which addresses charges brought against those between the ages of 10 and 17. Anyone who faces charges and is at least 18 years old is automatically processed through the adult criminal system. Sometimes, however, the court chooses to charge juveniles (who are at least 14) as adults, which means they proceed through the adult criminal court system in exactly the same manner that an adult would.
A Judicial Waiver
A juvenile can be transferred to the adult justice system at the age of 14 as a result of a judicial waiver that waives the juvenile's right to the protections provided by the juvenile court system. The decision-making process regarding a judicial waiver concerns itself with the following two elements:
Probable Cause – The court always needs probable cause to bring charges, but in this instance, the court will be looking for a strong likelihood that the juvenile in question will be convicted.
Nature of the Offense – The court may find that the nature of the offense in question is so serious that it warrants charging the juvenile as an adult. Further, the juvenile’s criminal record and personal history can also play an important role in the decision-making process.
The idea behind this is that if the juvenile is unresponsive to rehabilitation, the greater good is served by trying him or her as an adult. In practice, this is obviously a very subjective process that can upend a child’s future in the blink of an eye. Further, once convicted as an adult (barring a reversal upon appeal), any future charges will also be tried in the adult system. Ultimately, this means that the juvenile faces much stiffer potential penalties and, if convicted, will have an adult criminal record that is far more difficult to expunge than a juvenile record is.