Texas Juvenile Law: Treating Children as Adults

Texas has a long history of recognizing the need to treat children who engage in criminal conduct differently than it treats adults in criminal courts. The concept of rescuing children who run afoul of the law began in the 19th century with the establishment of specialized schools. These Texas schools were created to instill discipline in young offenders and steer them away from wrongdoing.

Today, the state juvenile justice system continues to emphasize rehabilitation over punishment by handling cases involving children who are at least 10 years of age and under 17 in juvenile courts instead of adult criminal court. Parents of teenagers should be aware that state law gives prosecutors the ability to attempt to take the protection of juvenile procedures away when serious felony offenses are committed.

Protections Afforded to Juvenile Offenders

Juveniles avoid the harshest penalties, including imprisonment, normally imposed upon adult offenders convicted of serious felony offenses. When a judge in juvenile court believes a child should be removed from the home for the misdemeanor or felony offense committed, detention or commitment is provided in a facility with other juveniles. This changes when the juvenile court waives jurisdiction of the case to an adult criminal district court.

Certification Process

The Texas Family Code §54.02(a) authorizes a juvenile court judge to certify a child who is at least 14 years of age as an adult if the offense the person is alleged to have committed is one of the following:

  • Capital felony
  • Aggravated controlled substance felony
  • First degree felony

If the child is at least 15 years of age, the offenses permitting certification as an adult include felony offenses of the second and third degrees and state jail felonies.

The certification process begins with a petition filed by the prosecution with the juvenile court. Before the hearing on the petition is held, the juvenile court judge must order a full and complete investigation of the child and the alleged criminal offense. The investigation includes psychological and social evaluation of the child and the child’s home.

A hearing is held in the juvenile court, at which point the prosecution and attorney for the juvenile may submit evidence, including testimony from experts and other witnesses for the judge handling the case to consider when making the certification decision. The court must take into consideration each of the following factors:

  • whether the alleged offense was committed against a person or property
  • the maturity and sophistication of the juvenile
  • any prior record of offenses committed by the child
  • the likelihood of the child being rehabilitated
  • whether the safety of the public can be maintained if the case is kept in juvenile court

A child certified as an adult is subject to all of the penalties and consequences associated with conviction of a serious felony offense in criminal court, including confinement to state prison.

Trusted Advice about Certification from an Austin Juvenile Defense Attorney

Austin juvenile defense lawyer Rick Cofer is a former Assistant District Attorney from Travis County, so he understands the certification process and strategies from both the defense and prosecution perspectives. Contact him today to schedule a consultation by calling (512) 200-3801.