In general, a juvenile between the ages of 10 and 16, will be charged as a juvenile and their case will be handled in the juvenile justice system. However, there may be a chance a juvenile is transferred to the adult system depending on the type of crime committed. If a juvenile offender is 14 years or older, the judge in the juvenile court will determine whether the juvenile will be tried as an adult. An important thing to remember in the Texas juvenile justice system, when a juvenile judge has decided to transfer a juvenile to the adult system, called a judicial waiver, they will be considered an adult for any subsequent felony offenses unless there was an acquittal, dismissal or reversal in the juvenile’s original case.
Types of Homicide in Texas
There are four different kinds of criminal homicide in Texas: murder, capital murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
Murder: Pursuant to the Texas Penal Code, a person has committed murder when they intentionally or knowingly cause the death of another person.1 Murder requires an intent to kill, or an intent to cause serious bodily injury or death.2 An individual may also be charged with murder if the person intended to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and during the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, the crime resulted in a death.3
Capital Murder: A person can face a charge of capital murder depending on the circumstances of homicide crime they committed. If the victim was a firefighter or a police officer, more than one person was killed, the killing occurred in prison, or getting paid to kill someone are all circumstances which would result in a capital murder charge in Texas.4One key difference between a juvenile convicted for capital murder and an adult, is the adult faces the death penalty or mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is unconstitutional for a juvenile to be sentenced to death or mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, they are subject to the same other penalties as an adult would be for a capital murder conviction.
Manslaughter: In Texas, a person will be charged with manslaughter if that person recklessly causes the death of another person.5 A person is reckless when their actions pose a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death to another person and beyond the standard of a reasonable and ordinary person. The person knew their actions posed a life-threatening risk to the victim but acted anyway.
Criminally Negligent Homicide: If a person did not know their actions posed a substantial and unjustifiable risk to another person, they will be charged with criminally negligent homicide.6 Criminally negligent homicide differs from the other criminal homicides because the person acting need not know that their actions pose a life threatening risk to human life.
A juvenile court has the ability to waive its exclusive original jurisdiction and transfer a juvenile to a district court for criminal proceedings.7
A juvenile court can waive their jurisdiction if: (1) the juvenile is alleged to have committed a felony; (2) the juvenile was 14 years or older at the time the offense allegedly occurred if the offense is a capital felony, an aggravated controlled substance felony, or a first degree felony and there has not been an adjudication hearing on that offense; or (3) the juvenile was 15 years or older at the time the offense allegedly occurred if the offense is a second degree felony, a third degree felony, or a state jail felony, and there has not been an adjudication hearing on that offense; and (4) after an investigation and a hearing, if the juvenile court determines there is probable cause to believe the juvenile committed the offense alleged, and taking into consideration the seriousness of the offense or the juvenile’s history, then the welfare of the community requires transfer for adult criminal proceedings.8
If a juvenile court waives their jurisdiction, and criminal proceedings are brought against the juvenile, the juvenile is subject to the same punishment as an adult, with the exception of the death penalty and life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, the juvenile may still be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Determinate sentences are the most series consequence facing youth who are adjudicated for criminal homicide and other felonies that meet the requirements set by the law in the juvenile system. As a result of the seriousness of a determinate sentence, a juvenile facing a determinate sentence offense is eligible for a twelve-person jury for the adjudication hearing and the disposition hearing, and the State does not have the right to a jury trial as they do in the adult system. The length of the sentence is determined according to the offense, which can be as much as 40 years for first-degree felonies like murder, and capital murder.
If a juvenile receives a determinate sentence that extends past their 19th birthday, a hearing will be held to determine whether the remainder of the sentence will be served in adult prison, placed on probation, or whether the sentence will end.
Although determinate sentences don’t sound drastically different from other legal punishments, they place a huge burden on those convicted and their families. Determinate sentences are similar to plea negotiations in adult felony court, where a juvenile could have a determinate sentence recommendation of up to 40 years.
Explaining Determinate Sentences
Austin youth are subject to determinate sentences depending on their specific offense. What is a determinate sentence, exactly?
A jail or prison sentence that is definite and not subject to review by a parole board or other agency. For example, a sentence of six months in the county jail is determinate, because the prisoner will spend no more than six months (minus time off for good behavior, in some situations). By contrast, an indeterminate sentence (such as 20 years to life) has a minimum term but the release date, if any, will be chosen by a parole board as it periodically reviews the case. – Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary.
Under the Texas Family Law, a prosecutor has the right to opt for special determinative sentence proceedings rather than seeking discretionary transfer to criminal court. This happens for several varied reasons ranging from a belief that a determinate sentence is better than discretionary transfer for either the accused or the system to the desire to send a political statement to the community by imposing a harsh punishment for a crime that evokes negative public perception.
Getting Help from an Experienced Defense Attorney is Crucial
If you or a loved one are facing a criminal homicide charge as a juvenile, it is crucial to have an experienced attorney on your side as soon as possible. Juvenile defense attorney Rick Cofer is the only practicing attorney in Austin, Texas to have both prosecuted and defended juvenile murder cases in Travis County. The Law Office of Rick Cofer is available to help and can review your case. Call us today at (512) 200-3801 or contact us through our online form for help and to learn more.