Texas Laws for Juvenile Crimes: Definitions and Penalties

A child’s arrest is a devastating experience for many parents. If your child is charged with a crime and arrested, you have many questions. An experienced juvenile defense attorney can answer your questions, including:

  • Will my child face jail time?
  • What are the differences between the juvenile justice system and the adult justice system?
  • How will the experience of an arrest and conviction change my child’s outlook and prospects for the future?


Many juveniles assume they won’t need a defense attorney if charged with a serious offense. Since some juvenile offenses carry serious penalties and consequences, it’s important to protect your child’s legal rights and future. An experienced juvenile defense attorney will do more than simply present your child to the judge. The defense attorney will guide you and your family through the often-confusing juvenile legal system, listening to you and explaining your options through the process.

Right to Counsel and Silence

If your child is arrested for a juvenile offense in Harris County or Houston, Texas, contact an experienced attorney immediately. Don’t allow your son or daughter to discuss the matter with a law enforcement officer until you contact defense counsel. Your child may invoke the right to silence and counsel before making a statement to the police.

Laws Regarding Juvenile Crimes

If your child is younger than age 18, he or she can be charged with a variety of misdemeanor and felony offenses in Texas. Houston criminal defense attorney Matthew D. Sharp dedicates his practice to criminal defense. He has experience in representing young persons charged with criminal offenses, such as:

  • Traffic Court Crimes, including hit-and-run, DWI, driving while license is suspended, or reckless driving
  • Drug-Related Crimes, such as juvenile possession of drugs, alcohol, or possession of drugs or alcohol on school grounds, possession of drug paraphernalia or possession of a controlled substance
  • Marijuana-Related Crimes, such as possession of marijuana, sale or delivery or marijuana, or felony possession
  • Violent Juvenile Crimes, including weapon possession on school grounds, assault and battery, unlawful possession of a firearm, or aggravated assault
  • Juvenile Theft/Property Crimes, such as shoplifting, dealing in stolen property, vandalism, theft, and arson
  • Juvenile Sex Crimes, including sexual assault, indecent exposure, sexting, battery, lewd and lascivious behavior, or a sexually-motivated crime that is allegedly committed by the juvenile on a younger boy or girl

If your child is charged with a criminal offense, you must seek the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer who’s experienced with the juvenile court system in greater Houston, Texas. The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp has experience in representing children charged with a range of juvenile offenses in Houston and throughout Texas. Mr. Sharp’s legal experience can protect your child from harsh penalties that may result if he or she is convicted of a serious offense. Contact Mr. Sharp to schedule a free initial case review.

Texas Juvenile Justice System

A juvenile is an individual between the ages of 10 to 17 in Texas. When a young person between these ages is arrested, or when an individual between the age of 17 to 18 is arrested for something they did before his or her 17th birthday, he or she is typically tried as a juvenile in the juvenile justice system.

A juvenile probation officer will conduct an intake of the child when he or she is arrested. The process is in place to determine if the young person meets the legal definition of child in Texas and if probable cause exists that the child committed a crime. During the intake process, the juvenile probation department also decides if the child will be held prior to trial.

In most circumstances, the probation department presumes that the child won’t be detained before the trial date. However, if he or she meets any of the following criteria, detention is likely:

  • The individual has a prior conviction
  • The individual is without a parent or guardian or doesn’t receive adequate care and supervision by a parent or guardian
  • The individual is a likely flight suspect: he or she is deemed likely to leave or be taken from the jurisdiction of the court
  • The individual is a danger to himself/herself or to others

When the child defendant is detained, he or she attends two meetings in the Houston – Harris County area or in nearby Montgomery County or any surrounding county. A probable cause hearing is held within 48 hours of arrest. A detention hearing follows within one to two business days. If detained, subsequent hearings are held every 10 to 15 days to discern if the individual shall continue to be detained pending trial.

The child defendant faces a two-part hearing at trial. The first is known as the adjudication phase. In the adjudication phase, the jury determines if the individual committed the crime or not. He or she isn’t found guilty or not guilty as in the adult justice system. In this case, the jury determines if the charges (petition) against the child defendant are true or not true. To make a true determination, the jury’s verdict must be unanimous.

The child may have the option to avoid the adjudication phase. In that case, he or she enters a stipulation, or equivalent guilty plea. In that case, the trial immediately progresses to disposition. The sentencing or disposition phase is the second part of the trial. The presiding judge decides appropriate punishments at that time.

The primary difference between the juvenile justice system and the adult justice system is that the juvenile system’s focus is the rehabilitation of the young offender. If the charge is true against the child, he or she faces punishment. However, the purpose of punishment is to instruct the child and promote a change in behavior. In contrast, the adult justice system focuses on the offender’s punishment. There’s much less interest in rehabilitating and educating the convicted adult.

Common Juvenile Offenses & Punishments in Texas Law

Let’s review some of the juvenile offenses and punishments:

If the child is charged with possession of marijuana, the punishment depends on the amount of marijuana he or she possessed and if the offense included aggravating factors, such as possessing marijuana in a drug-free school zone. In that scenario, punishment may vary. The child defendant faces suspension of a driver’s license, community supervision (probation) or even jail time. If the defendant is convicted, he or she faces other consequences in life, such as finding employment or getting into a good college or having access to federal student loan funds to pay for an education.

If a child faces other juvenile drug charges, multiple factors determine the consequences of conviction. Ask your defense attorney to assess the consequences based upon the child’s circumstances and social history.

If a child is convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI), he or she is likely to face driver’s license suspension. Additional punishment and consequences are dependent on the child’s individual case circumstances. Common punishments include community service and probation.

If a child is sentenced to probation and he or she violates the terms of probation, he or she will face a juvenile violation of probation charge. It will be necessary to return to court for adjudication. Revocation of probation or incarceration may result.

When your child is charged with a juvenile crime in greater Houston, Texas, it is imperative to consult a knowledgeable juvenile defense attorney. The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp stands by to answer your questions and offers assistance at this time.

Juveniles Tried as Adults in Texas

There are some scenarios in which a child defendant is certified as an adult according to Texas law. This means the individual stands trial as an adult defendant and is subject to adult punishments. The child defendant can’t face capital punishment for crimes he or she committed before his or her 17th birthday.

If the child is a chronic offender or commits a serious offense, he or she may be tried as an adult in Texas. In most cases, the child can’t be certified as an adult if the offense was committed before he or she turned 15 years of age. Unfortunately, if the child is 14 years old or older, he or she may stand trial as an adult for a capital offense, such as a first-degree felony or an aggravated controlled substance felony.

As you can see, it’s typically beneficial for the young defendant to be tried as a child. Punishments for the convicted child are usually less severe. After the child completes the sentence, his or her records are harder to access. An experienced juvenile defense lawyer does everything possible to ensure that the child is tried in the Texas juvenile justice system—not when certified as an adult.

Juvenile Crime Consequences

Depending upon your child’s age, history, and the nature of the crime, the court or local probation department may impose a variety of punishments, including:

  • Supervisory requirement. The child receives regular counseling from the probation department. The child and his or her family may be referred to social services as well.
  • Deferred prosecution. The child may be placed on a six-month voluntary probation term. If he or she violates the terms, the case will proceed to prosecution.
  • Probation at home, foster care, or within another program. The child may receive probation until he or she reaches age 18. He or she is likely to perform mandatory service to the community in addition to probation.
  • Restitution. If the crime involved a loss of life and/or significant property damage, the convict will be required to repay the victim or the family of the victim.
  • Incarceration or commitment. The Texas Youth Commission may incarcerate the child. He or she may be transferred to the Department of Criminal Justice at age 21. Incarceration decisions, such as how long he or she will be incarcerated, if or when he or she is eligible for early release, and the question of transfer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice depends on the crime committed and the child’s history.

Juvenile Crime Defense Strategies

Juvenile crimes span a wide range of criminal offenses including drugs possession and murder. If your son or daughter is charged with a crime, you need a juvenile defense attorney with extensive legal knowledge and proven courtroom skills. The juvenile defender will tailor the defense to the client’s strengths, needs, family, community, and social structure. When possible, the juvenile defense attorney to works closely with the client’s parents or guardians as allies.

Some common defenses of individuals charged with juvenile crimes include:

  • Mental health issues and/or school placement needs. If the client is a special needs student, the defense attorney may build a case on the failure of schools and social services to care for the client’s needs.
  • Neglect and abuse. If the child defendant has suffered abuse and neglect over the years, the defense attorney may develop the case according to the facts and with the health of professional allies, including special education, mitigation specialists, mental health, and social worker professionals. Social allies, such as the client’s church members, teachers, family members, and after-school program leaders, can help to defend the child defendant.

Juvenile defense is a specialized legal practice. The juvenile defense attorney develops the legal strategy based on the ins and outs of practice in the jurisdiction.

When your child is facing the consequences and punishments of a criminal offense in the Houston area, it’s important to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney. The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp knows it’s important to build a thoughtful, comprehensive case for your son or daughter as soon as possible.

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