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CRIMINAL DEFENSE

Austin Juvenile Defense Attorney

Juvenile Defense Lawyer In Travis County

When a person in Texas is under 17 and is charged with a crime, he or she enters the juvenile justice system.  There are some key differences between the adult and juvenile systems.  Generally, kids get better treatment than adults, with a focus on rehabilitation, but this is not always the case.

One thing that folks find confusing is that in juvenile court, everything has different terms.  A juvenile is not a “defendant”, he or she is a “respondent”.  A juvenile does not plead “guilty or not guilty”, but rather pleas “true or not true”.  A juvenile does not have a warrant issued, but rather a “Directive to Apprehend” (DTA).  These terms can be confusing, but often are no different from their counterparts in the adult system.  If you’re confused about a term in the juvenile system, a trusted Austin juvenile lawyer can help you understand them in a way that is easy to understand.

Detention Hearing

After arrest, the law requires that the Court hold a detention hearing to decide whether the juvenile can be released while the trial is pending.   In Travis County, these hearings are held at Gardner-Betts Juvenile Center at Congress and Oltorf.  By law, the hearing happens no later than 2 working days from the arrest. 

There is no bond in juvenile cases.  Instead, the judge makes the decision to release or hold the child.  This can be a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, it is never necessary to pay a bondsman for release, but on the flip side, a judge’s decision is final and there is no recourse if she decides that the child cannot be released.  

If the child is held in detention, another detention hearing must be held within 2 weeks, and every two weeks until the child is released.  Sometimes, if the child is not released initially, he or she can be released at the next detention hearing if they have shown good behavior while inside the facility.

When determining whether to release a juvenile, the judge considers the following five factors:

  1. is likely to abscond,
  2. lacks adequate supervision,
  3. lacks a parent or other person to return her to court,
  4. is a danger to herself or may threaten public safety, or
  5. was previously adjudicated for delinquent conduct and is likely to commit a subsequent offense

Juvenile Defense Lawyer In Travis County

When a person in Texas is under 17 and is charged with a crime, he or she enters the juvenile justice system.  There are some key differences between the adult and juvenile systems.  Generally, kids get better treatment than adults, with a focus on rehabilitation, but this is not always the case.

One thing that folks find confusing is that in juvenile court, everything has different terms.  A juvenile is not a “defendant”, he or she is a “respondent”.  A juvenile does not plead “guilty or not guilty”, but rather pleas “true or not true”.  A juvenile does not have a warrant issued, but rather a “Directive to Apprehend” (DTA).  These terms can be confusing, but often are no different from their counterparts in the adult system.  If you’re confused about a term in the juvenile system, a trusted Austin juvenile lawyer can help you understand them in a way that is easy to understand.

Detention Hearing

After arrest, the law requires that the Court hold a detention hearing to decide whether the juvenile can be released while the trial is pending.   In Travis County, these hearings are held at Gardner-Betts Juvenile Center at Congress and Oltorf.  By law, the hearing happens no later than 2 working days from the arrest. 

There is no bond in juvenile cases.  Instead, the judge makes the decision to release or hold the child.  This can be a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, it is never necessary to pay a bondsman for release, but on the flip side, a judge’s decision is final and there is no recourse if she decides that the child cannot be released.  

If the child is held in detention, another detention hearing must be held within 2 weeks, and every two weeks until the child is released.  Sometimes, if the child is not released initially, he or she can be released at the next detention hearing if they have shown good behavior while inside the facility.

When determining whether to release a juvenile, the judge considers the following five factors:

  1. is likely to abscond,
  2. lacks adequate supervision,
  3. lacks a parent or other person to return her to court,
  4. is a danger to herself or may threaten public safety, or
  5. was previously adjudicated for delinquent conduct and is likely to commit a subsequent offense

    Certification as Adult

    Courts can certify a child as an adult if they are over 15 and accused, with probable cause, of committing a felony.  Or if they are over 14 and accused of a capital or first-degree felony, or certain other special circumstances exist.  

    In Travis County, certification is extremely rare.  It is reserved for the most serious cases and happens only a few times each year, if at all.  Although it’s always a concern when serious charges are involved, it is not an automatic certification just because the charges are serious.  However, once certified, the juvenile is treated as an adult, without regard to his age.

    Pretrial

    While a case is pending, juvenile defendants are assigned a probation officer.  The PO is meant to be an officer of the court and is not on the side of the prosecution or the defense.  Their input can be significant help or a hindrance to the defendant, as the feedback from a supposedly neutral source can sway the judge. POs have influence in determining whether to detain a juvenile, conditions of release, and eventually at the punishment phase.

    If released to home, it is the PO that monitors whether the child is obeying curfew, attending school and/or therapy, and is generally following the rules put in place by the court.  The PO can also assist in getting support services for the juvenile, like counseling, or a mentor.  Again, juvenile law in Texas is focused on rehabilitation, not punishment.

    Types of Punishments in Juvenile Court

    Here is another area where juvenile courts diverge from adult courts.  Juvenile courts focus on getting the child back home and into a good environment.  There is a focus not only on the juvenile’s behavior but on the factors that led to the behavior.  This typically means that punishments are more lenient and rehabilitation-focused.

    Probation at Home

    Probation at home is by far the most common outcome in juvenile cases.  The child is sent home with conditions ranging from a simple mandate to attend school classes, up to curfews with an ankle monitor to track his or her location.  Just as in adult court, these can come with an adjudication of guilt, but sometimes, that adjudication can be deferred, so that there is no finding of guilt.

    Either way, the probation is over once the child has completed all requirements (like classes and community service) and spent the term dictated by the plea bargain or court.  This term is typically less than 18 months, and often much shorter than that. 

    Placement

    Placement is unique to juvenile law, because it is a jail sentence, but is technically part of probation.  If a child is sentenced to placement, he must stay in a juvenile facility.  Typically the term of placement is a few months.  However, since he is on probation, he has the opportunity to be released early to home if he does well in placement.

    Placement does happen in Travis County, but it is relatively rare.  Usually, it is the last resort when a child has been given the opportunity to do probation at home but has not followed the conditions and/or has picked up additional charges.  A child is more likely to receive placement if the criminal charges seem to be escalating.

    Determinate Sentence

    A determinate sentence is basically a jail sentence.  It is only available for certain serious charges.  If the prosecutor is seeking a determinate sentence, they will have to serve notice to the defendant.  Sentence minimum and maximums are the same as adult court, and the juvenile can be held past his 19th birthday and transfer into the adult system.  If the State files a notice that they are seeking a determinate sentence, you know that the stakes have been elevated.  In Travis County, this will happen sometimes for especially serious crimes.

    Juvenile Records

    Juvenile records are governed by completely different statutes than adult records.  Most people think that juvenile records go away when you are an adult, but this is only partially true.  Law enforcement files for juveniles are never open to the public, even when the case is pending.  However, files are intact for law enforcement even after the child is an adult.  Additionally, information about the arrest is reported to schools and can lead to school discipline in some cases.  

    In rare cases – like class C misdemeanors – minors have the ability to expunge their records.  For the most part, the records are handled with a nondisclosure, or by sealing the record.  Unfortunately, this does not result in the record being completely destroyed like an expunction, but it does keep the records hidden from the public eye.  Juveniles can also legally deny that they were arrested in job applications or in any other situation.  College applications do not ask about juvenile criminal history.

    For many records, sealing happens automatically at age 18 or age 19.  Some charges are eligible for a nondisclosure before that, but you must petition the court.  There are some exceptions that can be disclosed to the public.  If the child is required to register as a sex offender, this can be disclosed.    Because juvenile records have a lot of nuance with how they can be sealed, it is important to talk to an experienced Austin juvenile defense attorney to determine your options.  As a general rule, juvenile records are less available to the public but are available to law enforcement, prosecutors, and other court personnel.

    Contact an Experienced Austin Juvenile Defense Attorney

    If your child has been charged in the juvenile system, it is important to speak to an Austin juvenile defense lawyer right away. Every second counts in the juvenile system, and working with an experienced attorney who frequently works with juvenile law cases will give you the best chance for success.  Call ATX Legal today for a free case evaluation.

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