When a Minor Is Charged with a Crime in Texas

Minor arrested for a crime in Texas

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Many people have questions about how the Texas criminal justice system addresses crimes committed by juveniles, but the answers to these questions are complicated. If your child is facing a criminal charge, the most important step you can take to support his or her legal rights and future is consulting with a dedicated Killeen criminal defense attorney with expansive experience in the juvenile justice system.

Juvenile Defined

In Texas, children can be charged with a crime in the juvenile court system once they reach the age of 10. In the eyes of the law, children remain juveniles until they turn 17, and they are generally charged in the juvenile justice system until this time.

While the classification as a juvenile often extends beyond the age of 17 in other contexts, children reach the age of legal maturity at 17 in the State of Texas. As such, anyone who is at least 17 years old and is charged with a crime in the state is tried in the adult criminal justice system.

Juvenile vs. Adult Criminal Law

Juvenile criminal law differs substantially from adult criminal law in Texas and throughout the nation. The primary distinction between juvenile and adult criminal law in Texas is that the goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation – as opposed to the adult system’s punishment.

Texas is invested in ensuring that juveniles are treated fairly, and as a result, additional protections are built into the process. However, juveniles are exceptionally vulnerable, and having the skilled legal counsel of a Killeen juvenile lawyer in your child’s corner is always advantageous.

Offenses that Are Specific to Juveniles

Certain offenses only apply to juveniles in the State of Texas. These include truancy, underage drinking, and curfew violations.


A juvenile can be arrested in Texas if the arresting officer has probable cause to believe that any one of the following factors applies to the situation:

  • The juvenile violated a criminal statute.

  • The juvenile engaged in conduct indicating a need for supervision.

  • The juvenile engaged in delinquent conduct.

  • The juvenile violated a court-ordered condition of probation.


Truancy refers to any unexcused absence from school. In Texas, children are required to attend school regularly from the age of 6 to 18 or the age of graduation, whichever comes first. Parents are legally responsible for ensuring that their children attend school, and they can face citations for contributing to nonattendance when they fail to do so.

Once a child racks up a specific number of unexcused absences within a certain period, he or she can be labeled as truant and incur the following consequences:

  • Citations

  • Fines

  • Court costs

  • Educational losses

Truancy is closely associated with juvenile delinquency.

Juvenile Delinquency

Delinquent conduct is generally defined as conduct that “if committed by an adult, could result in imprisonment or confinement in jail.” Juveniles who engage in delinquent conduct are generally referred to the juvenile court system, where they can be dealt with informally, such as by being sent home, or can be charged with delinquent conduct.

Examples of delinquent conduct include the following charges:

  • Driving while intoxicated or driving with detectable alcohol in the minor’s system

  • Intoxicated assault or intoxicated manslaughter

  • Contempt of court

  • Sex offenses

A juvenile who is charged with delinquent conduct is likely to face one of the following outcomes:

  • A diversion program

  • The court process

The potential consequences of a conviction generally include from one to two years of probation. More serious cases can lead to either determinate or indeterminate sentences with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) detention center.

A determinate sentence is a sentence for a specific amount of time, though juveniles can be released early when the circumstances support it. When indeterminate sentences are imposed, juveniles can be kept for any amount of time up to the point that they turn 19.

In very serious situations or for habitual offenders, the court may order a hybrid sentence. This sentence means that the offender will be transferred to the adult criminal court and prison system upon turning 18, which can lead to prison time or parole. While offenders can’t remain in the juvenile system after they turn 19, they can be transferred to the adult system any time after they turn 16.

Conduct Indicating a Need for Supervision

Conduct indicating a need for supervision (CINS) refers to conduct that wouldn’t lead to an adult’s arrest and that is not a traffic offense. CINS can have negative consequences for a juvenile but does not lead to detention. Common examples of CINS include the following offenses:

  • Truancy or failure to attend school

  • Expulsion from school

  • Voluntary absence from the home without parental consent

  • Running away

  • Certain alcohol and tobacco violations

  • Inhalation or huffing of glue, paint, or other substances

  • Violation of certain court orders

  • Sexting or the electronic transmission of certain visual materials depicting a minor

  • Prostitution

Legal options can range from sending the youth to probation or to a diversionary program, such as substance abuse treatment or treatment for emotional or behavioral concerns.

Common Charges Faced by Juveniles

Juveniles tend to face the following criminal charges most frequently.


Larceny is another word for theft, and it refers to taking someone else’s property with the intention of depriving the owner of the asset. The greater the value of the property involved, the more serious the crime.

Learn what to do if your child is accused of theft.


Vandalism is encompassed in the charge of criminal mischief, and it’s an offense that involves intentional actions that are designed to damage, deface, or otherwise alter someone else’s property without permission. Each of the following actions qualifies:

  • Maliciously causing the destruction of property without the owner’s consent

  • Altering someone else’s property with inscriptions, drawings, slogans, or paintings, such as graffiti

  • Tampering with someone else’s property in a manner that results in monetary loss or that leads to significant inconvenience for the owner or a third party

For the act to reach the level of vandalism, the state must prove that the accused acted with specific intent and awareness. The severity of the crime is based on the extent and value of the damage caused.


The charge of shoplifting in Texas relates to intentionally and unlawfully taking property from a store, merchant, or retailer without consent and with the intention of depriving him or her of the property. The seriousness of the crime is based on the following factors:

  • The overall value of the goods taken

  • The criminal history of the accused

  • Whether or not force was used

Alcohol Possession

It’s against the law for juveniles to be in possession of alcohol in the State of Texas. The charge of minor in possession of alcohol (MIP) carries fines of up to $500, a 30-day driver’s license suspension, and community service hours that relate to alcohol education, rehabilitation, or the prevention of related offenses.

A minor in consumption (MIC) charge, on the other hand, refers to someone who is not yet 21 – the legal drinking age in every state in the nation – consuming alcohol. The fines and penalties are similar to those for MIP, but you can expect lengthier community service hours and a mandatory requirement to complete alcohol awareness training.

Drug Possession

Drug possession charges relate to being in possession of illegal drugs or controlled prescription drugs without valid prescriptions. In Texas and throughout the country, illegal drugs are classified in schedules that are based on the associated potential for abuse or on the risk involved. The severity of the charge is predicated on the amount of the drug and its schedule – with Schedule I having the highest risk of abuse.


The charge of assault in Texas is wide ranging and includes all of the following actions:

  • Intentionally or recklessly causing someone else to suffer physical harm or injury

  • Intentionally threatening to cause someone else to suffer imminent physical harm

  • Intentionally engaging in provocative or offensive physical contact with someone else

Violence needn’t be present for the charge of assault to apply, but when it is, the level of the charge is enhanced.

Many Juvenile Convictions Can Be Sealed

The Texas juvenile justice system is committed to removing the “taint of criminality from children committing certain unlawful acts.” As a result, many juvenile records can be sealed. Courts want to lessen the impact of the juvenile’s criminal history on his or her future, which aligns with the goal of rehabilitation.

Once juveniles reach the age of 17, their records are restricted as a matter of course. Only certain agencies, such as law enforcement, can access the information in a juvenile criminal record.

Restriction is not the same as having a record sealed, which is a more complete closure. A juvenile record that is restricted rather than sealed may need to be reported in the following circumstances:

  • School applications

  • Financial aid applications

  • Job applications

  • Applications for professional licensure

Once a juvenile record is sealed, it’s no longer accessible. Eligibility for record sealing requires that at least two years have passed since adjudication (the finding of guilt in the case) or the juvenile’s discharge. Another requirement is that the offender didn’t engage in any additional delinquent conduct during the two-year waiting period.

It’s important to note that the sealing process is not automatic and that the prosecution sometimes objects, which can complicate matters. The surest path forward is to work closely with a seasoned Killeen criminal defense attorney who focuses on juvenile defense.

When a Juvenile Is Charged with a Felony

Many parents have questions about whether minors can be charged with felonies, and the answer is yes, they can. Whether they remain in the juvenile justice system at this point or are transferred to the adult system depends on a range of factors, but primary concerns include the following factors:

  • The seriousness of the crime and whether or not it was violent in nature

  • The juvenile’s record

  • Whether or not a weapon was used

  • Whether or not the crime was gang-related

When juveniles are charged as adults, they face the same penalties an adult would – with the exception that they can’t be sentenced to life without parole or to the death penalty. When charged with a felony as a juvenile, offenders can only seal their records once they reach the age of 19 – as long as they didn’t acquire additional felony convictions in the interim.

Certification as an Adult

Before a juvenile can be charged as an adult, he or she must be certified as an adult by the prosecution prior to trial. To be certified as an adult, the accused must be at least 14 years old. The vast majority of adult certifications involve violent criminal charges like the following:

  • Murder

  • Aggravated robbery

  • Sexual assault

  • Serious physical assault

Additional factors discussed above, such as the criminal record of the accused, use of a weapon, and gang affiliation, can also play a critical role. The decision to certify a juvenile as an adult is up to the prosecutor, but the certification must be granted by the juvenile judge after conducting a hearing.

Discuss Your Child’s Situation with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a compassionate criminal defense attorney who appreciates your concerns regarding your child’s legal rights and future and has an imposing level of success guiding challenging cases like yours through the juvenile justice system.

The matter of your child’s future is too serious to leave to chance, so please don’t wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 to schedule your FREE consultation and learn more today.

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