According to ABC 13, a 16-year-old male was arrested on charges of the shooting death of a 62-year old woman on June 18 in relation to an attempted robbery outside a Gym in the early morning hours. The juvenile suspect is facing capital murder charges, but his name and photo have not been released due to his age (a concession reserved only for juvenile defendants). Two other suspects are believed to be involved in the crime. The matter of juvenile crimes in the State of Texas is riddled with challenges that make working closely with an experienced criminal attorney paramount.
The female victim, a grandmother, was outside her gym – having arrived early for her 5 AM class – when the shooting occurred. After parking her car in the parking lot of the Houston fitness studio, a Chevrolet Suburban pulled in next to her, and its occupants called out to her as she walked to the gym’s front door. The police believe that, when the victim realized she was about to be robbed, she began running, which presumably prompted one of the suspects to shoot her – at which point, she collapsed to the ground. The police also received a report in relation to an attempted carjacking in the vicinity, and this victim’s description of the assailants matched the description of the assailants in the gym shooting. The police were able to arrest the 16-year-old suspect while the other two suspects remained at large.
In the State of Texas, robbery is the crime of using force or threat of force to take someone else’s property. Robbery is a second-degree felony when bodily force is involved, but it is elevated to a first-degree felony if a deadly weapon is used in the commission of the crime. Deadly weapons can include any of the following:
A baseball bat
A tool such as a hammer or a tire iron
A stun gun
RELATED READINGS: Fighting Texas Robbery Charges
Capital Murder Charges
The charge of capital murder in the State of Texas refers to any crime that involves any one or more of the following:
Hiring one person to kill another
Murdering an on-duty police officer
Murdering a child who is younger than six years old
Murdering someone during the commission of another felony crime, such as robbery
Juvenile vs. Adult Charges
The criminal justice system in Texas defines a juvenile as someone who is between the ages of 10 and 17 at the time the crime in question – or act of delinquent conduct – was committed. There are, however, some cases in which a juvenile can be tried as an adult, and examples include if the juvenile is a chronic offender or if the crime in question is especially serious (such as some capital murder cases). Children who are under the age of 15 are generally tried as juveniles unless the crime they are charged with is a capital crime. If the child being charged is at least 14 years old and is charged with a first-degree felony or an aggravated controlled substance felony, he or she can be tried as an adult in the State of Texas.
How the System Works
While a juvenile can be arrested or detained for having allegedly committed a crime, the path forward is very different for juveniles than it is for adults. The Juvenile Justice Code in Texas is incorporated in the Texas Family Code. In juvenile court, the presumption is the juvenile’s rehabilitation, and the primary concern is the best interests of the child. Further, the police do not need a warrant in order to detain or arrest a juvenile in the State of Texas (like they do for adults). If the officer believes that he or she has probable cause for doing so, the juvenile can be taken into custody.
The Detention Hearing
In Texas, every juvenile who is arrested or detained has the right to a detention hearing, which is the first step in the state’s juvenile justice system. The detention hearing must be held within 48 hours of detention or arrest. Additionally, juvenile law in the state requires that the juvenile in question be taken to the juvenile detention center – and that his or her parents or legal guardians be contacted – without undue delay.
The detention hearing is designed to address the nature of the charge levied against the juvenile and to assess the juvenile’s living arrangements and level of supervision at home in the determination of whether release or detention in the juvenile facility until his or her court appearance is appropriate. The more serious the charge, the less likely release becomes. Unlike the adult criminal justice system, the juvenile system has no bail process involved. As such, the 48-hour detention hearing requirement is strictly upheld. If a parent or guardian cannot be reached to attend the hearing, the juvenile court must appoint him or her a guardian ad litem who will attend the hearing with the juvenile on his or her behalf.
The Length of Detention
Unless one of the following is determined by the court to be true, the juvenile under detention must be released:
The juvenile is at high risk of absconding (or running away).
The juvenile represents a danger to himself or herself and/or to the community at large
The juvenile does not receive suitable supervision, care, and/or protection from a parent, guardian, or another adult at home.
The juvenile does not have a parent, guardian, or another custodian in his or her life helping to ensure that he or she shows up for court appearances
The juvenile has already been identified as delinquent or has previously been convicted of a crime that is punishable by jail or prison time and is likely to reoffend if released
If your child is detained at his or her detention hearing, your experienced criminal attorney can request that a detention hearing be held every ten days in order to challenge the necessity of detention.
If your child is released from detention, the court has the discretion to impose specific restrictions and conditions that your juvenile must follow in order to remain free. These conditions correlate with the bond conditions that are employed in adult court. Many of these conditions will fall upon you, as the parent, in the form of providing the requisite supervision and ensuring that your child shows up for all his or her court dates. In fact, your child’s release could hinge on requirements that are placed on you.
How Juvenile Charges Work
In order to initiate prosecution against a juvenile, the prosecutor involved must file a petition that initiates the case against him or her. For more serious felony charges, the prosecution has 30 days to file, but for less serious charges, the prosecution must file within 15 days of the detention hearing. If the charge in question is not filed in compliance with these restrictions, the juvenile must be released from custody.
In juvenile court, your child must be accompanied by a parent, guardian, or guardian ad litem, and if you and your child’s criminal attorney determine that contesting the allegations brought against your child is the best path forward, a jury trial will likely be set. While the juvenile in question has the right to request a jury trial, the prosecution does not.
If the judge or jury ultimately determines that the prosecution made its case, a finding will be entered into the juvenile’s record that indicates he or she engaged in delinquent conduct, which creates the presumption that he or she needs rehabilitation. This leads to sentencing, which is the judge’s purview. The judge’s sentencing must focus on protecting the public while rehabilitating the juvenile (rather than punishing him or her – as in the adult criminal justice system).
The criminal attorney for a juvenile can negotiate a plea agreement, but in order to do so, the juvenile must stipulate the evidence involved and must enter a plea of true rather than guilty in response to the criminal allegations.
When Juveniles Are Tried as Adults
In theory, juveniles are tried as adults only under the most extreme instances. Unfortunately, however, this is not always how it plays out in the State of Texas. In fact, Texas is well known for its propensity to fast-track minors straight into the adult criminal justice system. Before 1995, juveniles who were tried as adults were granted automatic appeals. This is no longer the case, and once a juvenile has been remanded to the adult criminal system, the case cannot be returned to the juvenile court. In order for a juvenile to be tried as an adult, a juvenile hearing must be held, which certifies that the criteria set by the state are met. If the court decides to move forward with charging the juvenile as an adult, the judge must submit a waiver of jurisdiction – also known as a transfer order – that waives the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and transfers the case to adult criminal court. This is known as certification of the juvenile.
An Assembly Line Process
According to Houston Public Media, Texas has a history of being trigger-happy when it comes to the certification of juveniles. In some Texas counties, the process used to be so easy that only a one-page document in which the prosecutor simply filled in the blanks was necessary. In fact, in the years that span from 1997 to 2007, Harris County granted approximately 93 percent of all requested juvenile certifications. It is no wonder that criminal attorneys used to refer to the process as rubber stamping and that many unfavorably compared the process to an assembly line.
Conviction in the Juvenile System
While the adult criminal justice system focuses on the punishment of the criminal and the safety of the public, the juvenile correction system is charged with taking treatment and rehabilitation (in addition to the safety of the public) into careful consideration.
When the accused is tried as a juvenile, his or her record will be sealed, and related public information will be rendered anonymous – as in the gym shooting above – in order to protect the juvenile from future social stigma. The reality of juvenile convictions is that the consequences can be far more serious than the public may realize, and the determinative factors include the juvenile’s age at the time the crime was committed, the nature of the crime and arrest, and the juvenile’s criminal history (if any). The penalties handed down to juveniles include all the following:
Requirement for Supervision – A requirement for supervision typically requires that the juvenile offender receive regular counseling from the probation department. Both the juvenile offender and his or her family may also be referred to social services for additional help.
Deferred Prosecution – Deferred prosecution means that the juvenile offender is placed on six months of voluntary probation, and if he or she remains in compliance, that is the end of the matter. If, however, he or she does not, the juvenile will proceed to prosecution.
Probation at Home – Probation at home, in foster care, or within another program means that the juvenile offender receives a sentence of probation until reaching the age of 18. A sentence of probation generally includes mandatory community service.
Restitution – Restitution relates to crimes that lead to the loss of life and/or to significant property damage, and the juvenile offender is required to repay the victim or the family of the victim in some capacity.
Incarceration or Commitment – The juvenile offender can be incarcerated by the Texas Youth Commission, and he or she can be transferred to the Department of Criminal Justice upon reaching the age of 21. Decisions about incarceration – such as how long it should last, if eligibility for early release is a possibility, and if transfer to adult corrections is required – are based on the age of the child when he or she committed the crime, on the nature of the crime in question, and on the child’s criminal history (if any).
Seek the Skilled Legal Guidance of an Experience Killeen Criminal Attorney Today
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a practiced criminal attorney with a wealth of experience successfully defending the rights of juveniles facing criminal charges. To learn more, please do not wait to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 today.