Juvenile Offenses

Our firm approaches every case with the mindset that we are "representing people" and not merely "handling cases." In short, we really try to take the term "counselor" which is applied to attorneys, very seriously. This is especially true in our juvenile law practice. We know there are few things scarier than your child getting in criminal trouble.

Often, parents will react to their children's arrest with panic. Some will try to get the child out of detention quickly and all but sweep things under the proverbial rug. Still others will take the opposite approach and let their child sit for a time to ponder their actions. While we certainly understand the emotions that lead to these two approaches, each taken to the extreme carries the potential of harm. So Sutton, Milam & Fanning advocates a more measured "middle" approach.

While we certainly want to work hard for a good result on the case in front of us, we also work with you to make sure that your child knows he or she is loved and supported through this difficult time. We understand that most kids who find themselves in trouble with "juvie" are at somewhat of a crossroads in life. There are two very obvious paths that are available to them and quite frankly their choosing the correct path is the most important part of the entire deal. Our sincere hope is that young people that hire us for juvenile representation never have to hire us again.

We will discuss the specifics of this approach in more detail during our free consultation with you. However, we offer the following in this space so that you can consider it immediately and in the event you decide not to consult with us:

Go easy on your child. Be slow to anger. The last we need is for your child to have more "acceptance" inside juvie than from his loved ones outside. Now, we place quotation marks around the word "acceptance" because we know we are talking about a perceived acceptance, not a real acceptance. The reality of the deal is that nobody accepts and loves your child more than you. But trusting that a young person is scared and in trouble perceives the world around them accurately is not good standard operating procedure. In short, we will be the ones to "bad cop" your child if such a thing is necessary. We ask that you simply wrap your arms around them.

Detention Hearing (Texas Family Code § 54.01)

If your child has been taken into custody, our first opportunity to fight for your child's rights is the detention hearing. The law provides that if your child is not released previously, the court must hold a hearing not later than the second working day after the child is taken into custody, unless your child was detained on a Friday or Saturday, then the hearing must take place on the first working day after your child is taken into custody. The sole purpose of the hearing is to determine whether or not the Government is allowed to continue to detain your child in juvie. At the end of the hearing, the court is required to release your child unless the court finds one of the following:

  1. your child is likely to abscond or be removed from the jurisdiction of the court;
  2. suitable supervision, care, or protection for your child is not being provided by a parent, guardian, custodian, or other person;
  3. your child has no parent, guardian, custodian, or other person able to return him to the court when required;
  4. your child may be dangerous to himself or herself or may threaten the safety of the public if released; or
  5. your child has previously been found to be a delinquent child or has previously been convicted of a penal offense punishable by a term in jail or prison and is likely to commit an offense if released.

The Government is required to give notice to your child and to you--the child's parent, guardian or custodian of the time, place and purpose of the hearing.

At the hearing, your child is entitled to be represented by counsel. This makes it especially important in juvenile cases that you reach out and retain an attorney quickly after your child is detained. The more time we have prior to the hearing, the better prepared we can be to represent your child's interests at this critical stage of the juvenile process.

Deferred Prosecution (Texas Family Code § 53.03)

In many cases, the best outcome for your child's case, particularly if the child has never been in legal trouble before, may be a type of informal probation call "Deferred Prosecution." In many circumstances, a deferred prosecution can be offered by the juvenile probation officer who is assigned to your child when they are first brought into custody. A skilled attorney can assist at this early stage in the process by negotiating with the probation about the prospect and terms of supervision.

Under a deferred prosecution, your child may be "advised" for a period of up to six months regarding rehabilitation and guided through various programs or services. If your child is successful on the informal probation, this can bring an end to a juvenile case without any formal prosecution taking place.

"Conduct Indicating a Need for Supervision" (CINS Offense) (Texas Family Code § 51.03) vs. Delinquent Conduct (Texas Family Code § 51.03)

If your child is formally prosecuted, there are two basic types of charges on which your child can be prosecuted in a juvenile court. In either case, your child has the right to counsel and ultimately to a jury trial to determine whether or not the child committed the offense as charged by the Government. At the start of a trial, your child is entitled to plead "true" or "not true" to the allegations and, if your child pleads "not true," then the Government is required to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. If the child is found to have committed the offense at a trial, a disposition hearing is then held in front of a judge or jury to determine what consequences will result for the child.

A) "Conduct Indicating a Need for Supervision" or CINS (usually pronounced "chins") Offenses include

  1. Class C Misdemeanors (punishable by fine only), except for traffic violations;
  2. Truancy
  3. Running away from home;
  4. Huffing glue or paint;
  5. Conduct that violated school rules and resulted in expulsion;
  6. Prostitution; and
  7. Sexting.

B) Delinquent Conduct offenses include:

  1. Any criminal offense that is a Class B Misdemeanor or higher;
  2. Contempt of court following an order from certain courts, including a truancy court;
  3. Driving while intoxicated, intoxication assault, or intoxication manslaughter; and
  4. Driving under the influence of alcohol by a minor with two or more prior offenses.

Disposition Hearing (Texas Family Code § 54.04)

If your child pleads true to a CINS offense or delinquent conduct, then the court will hold another hearing for the purpose of determining what, if any, consequences will result. Before any disposition can occur for your child, the court must first find that need of rehabilitation or the protection of the public or your child requires that disposition be made. If the court doesn't make that finding, then the court must end the case without any further consequence to your child.

If the court finds that a disposition is appropriate, the court must then decide whether your child can be provided sufficient care within your home. If the court finds that sufficient care is available, then any probation that the court places the child cannot be outside the child's home. If the court finds the home to be insufficient, then the court may place the child on probation and further place the child in a foster home, public or private residential treatment facility or correctional facility.

Except for very serious offenders who have committed a "determinate sentence" eligible offense, a probation may only last until the child turns 18 years old, and a term or duration of detention may only last until the child turns 19 years old.

Determinate Sentence (53.045)

If your child has committed certain serious types of offenses, then they child may be given a determinate sentence to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. A determinate sentence is a sentence for a set length of time and can last past the child becoming an adult. Under certain circumstances, the child may even be transferred to an adult correctional facility after the child turns 19.

The maximum length of sentence is determined by the grade of offense under the Texas Penal Code. For third degree felony offenses, the maximum period is 10 years. For second degree felonies, it is 20 years. For a capital felony, a first degree felony, or an aggravated controlled substance felony, the maximum sentence is 40 years.

The following offenses are eligible for determinate sentencing:

  1. Murder;
  2. Capital Murder;
  3. Manslaughter
  4. Aggravated Kidnapping;
  5. Sexual Assault or Aggravated Sexual Assault:
  6. Aggravated Kidnapping;
  7. Aggravated Assault;
  8. Aggravated Robbery;
  9. Injury to a Child, Elderly Individual, or Disabled Individual, if punishable as a third degree felony of higher;
  10. Drug offenses, only if punishable as a first degree felony or aggravated controlled substance felony;
  11. Criminal Solicitation of a capital or first degree felony;
  12. Indecency with a Child;
  13. Criminal Solicitation of a Minor;
  14. Criminal Attempt of Murder, Capital Murder, or aggravated felony;
  15. Arson;
  16. Intoxication Manslaughter; and
  17. Criminal Conspiracy to commit any of the above-listed offenses.

Certification as an Adult (54.02)

In the most serious cases, the Government may ask the court to waive its usual jurisdiction over a child and transfer the case for prosecution in the adult criminal system. The requirements vary depending on the age of the offender at the time of the offense and at the time of the prosecution, but is possible only in cases where the child is charged with a felony offense. To decide whether to transfer the case to an adult criminal court, the juvenile court must hold a hearing to determine:

  1. whether the alleged offense was against person or property, with greater weight in favor of transfer given to offenses against the person;
  2. the sophistication and maturity of the child;
  3. the record and previous history of the child; and
  4. the prospects of adequate protection of the public and the likelihood of the rehabilitation of the child by use of procedures, services, and facilities currently available to the juvenile court.

If the Government is seeking or may seek to certify your child as an adult, the stakes are extremely high. The juvenile system is largely focused on rehabilitation and maximum possible punishment is 40 years even for a capital offense. If the child is transferred to adult criminal court, this rehabilitation focus and punishment caps no longer apply.

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Call Sutton Milam & Fanning at 254-633-3048 or email us today to set up a meeting with one of our criminal defense attorneys