The Hale County Attorney prosecutes juvenile cases in Hale County. Along with CPS cases, juvenile cases provide the bulk of the work done by the County Attorney’s Office. Juvenile cases are governed largely by Title 3 of the Texas Family Code, which is commonly known as the Juvenile Justice Code. In addition, the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure affect these cases.
Please be advised that juvenile information and records are confidential and may not generally be released except with a court order. The Hale County Attorney’s Office cannot give out juvenile information to the general public, and sometimes even to persons involved in the case.
Below is some basic information regarding juvenile cases. The information offered here may not apply to every situation. While every effort is made to offer up-to-date information, laws do occasionally change. No warranty is made as to the correctness of the information. The information below is offered for information purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice to anyone about any specific situation. Please consult your attorney for advice about specific legal questions.
The Texas Family Code defines a juvenile as any child between the ages of 10 and 16. When a child turns the age of 17, he or she is considered an adult for purposes of being prosecuted for a criminal offense. Any offense committed by a child before age 17, however, must be initially prosecuted as a juvenile case. The law does allow transfer of certain juvenile cases involving felonies to criminal courts for prosecution of the child as an adult.
The juvenile court may keep a child on probation until age 18. If a child is committed to the Texas Youth Commission, that entity may exercise jurisdiction and control over the child until age 19.
In Hale County, both the 64th and 242nd District Courts and the County Court are designated as juvenile courts. Cases are filed in those courts on a rotating basis, although cases involving “co-defendants” are generally filed in the same court.
Juvenile cases involve one of two types of conduct: conduct indicating a need for supervision and delinquent conduct.
“Conduct indicating a need for supervision” includes fine-only misdemeanors other than traffic offenses and violations of local penal ordinances. Those types of offenses, however, may only be prosecuted as conduct indicating a need for supervision if the justice or municipal court hearing the case refers it to the juvenile court. Besides those types of cases, conduct indicating a need for supervision also includes truancy and runaways.
Truancy cases in Hale County are handled primarily by the Justice Courts in Precincts One and Three. Hale Countyemploys a truancy case manager to monitor juveniles placed on probation by the justice court for truancy. Violation of the justice court probation for truancy results in revocation by the justice court and referral to the juvenile court for delinquent conduct, as explained below.
“Delinquent conduct” is basically any conduct which would constitute a criminal offense of a Class B misdemeanor or above if the child were an adult. Delinquent conduct also includes the violation by the juvenile of a lawful order of a justice or municipal court that would constitute contempt of that court. The latter category provides the ability to address habitually truant children for delinquent conduct rather than conduct indicating a need for supervision if they violate the probation orders of the justice court.
The juvenile justice system was developed to attempt to rehabilitate, rather than simply punish, juveniles who engaged in criminal behavior. There are several differences between the juvenile justice system and the adult criminal system.
Juvenile cases are filed as civil cases. The State of Texas is the petitioner, but the case is style “In the Manner of [the juvenile’s name], A Child.” The cases are filed in the court or courts designated as juvenile courts. In the case of Hale County, that is the two district courts and the county court. The juvenile is not a “defendant” but a “respondent.”
Juveniles plead “true” or “not true” rather than “guilty” or “not guilty.” An adult is “convicted” of an offense; a juvenile is “adjudicated” for his or her conduct. The trial of a juvenile case is divided into two hearings, much like a criminal case. Instead of guilt/innocence and punishment, a juvenile case has an adjudication hearing and a disposition hearing.
Most of the same safeguards that are imposed in criminal cases exist to protect the rights of juveniles. For example, a juvenile is entitled to a trial by jury in any case unless he or she waives that right. Unlike an adult on trial for a criminal offense, who may have a jury determine his punishment, a juvenile may only have a jury as to adjudication only. In every case, the disposition decision rests entirely with the court.
Juvenile records may be used against the juvenile in certain situations later in life. The main example of this would be the use of a juvenile record in the punishment phase of an adult criminal trial. Juvenile records are confidential, however, and the public does not have access to them. Access to specific records is limited to law enforcement and court personnel; certain parties have a right under the Juvenile Justice Code to request a court order for access. Under certain circumstances, a juvenile may return to the trial court and request that his or her record be sealed. If relief is granted, the records are sealed and may not be accessed by anyone.
If the juvenile applies for a professional license (such as a license to practice law) from the State, he or she might have to disclose the existence of a juvenile record and give permission for the licensing body to view the record. Similarly, recruiters for the armed forces may require disclosure of any juvenile record and ask for permission to view the records.
Juvenile cases that involve sexual offenses may lead to a requirement that the juvenile register as a sex offender. At present, the courts have the ability to either defer or to waive registration for juveniles, depending on the facts of the case. Also, a juvenile who is required to register must only do so, at present, for a period of 10 years.
“Punishment” is really a misnomer in the context of juvenile cases. Each juvenile case heard in court has an adjudication hearing and a disposition hearing. The goal of the Juvenile Justice Code is to rehabilitate juveniles, rather than simply punish them.
The disposition of each juvenile case must be decided on a case-by-case basis. The Juvenile Justice Code is structured to encourage, in most cases, the placing of a juvenile on probation for the juvenile’s first case. In order to place the juvenile out of his or her home, the court must find that the juvenile lacks the support and care in the home necessary to complete probation and that it would be contrary to the welfare of the juvenile to remain in the home. As noted above, rehabilitation is the primary objective of the Juvenile Justice Code.
In some cases, the appropriate disposition for the juvenile is determined to be informal probation. This type of probation lasts for a period of 3 to 6 months and occurs without a court order stating the conditions of the probation. Obviously, informal probation requires the cooperation of the juvenile to be successful. Informal probation might be offered to the juvenile without the filing of a case in court; occasionally, informal probation is offered even after a case has been filed.
Formal probation following an adjudication and disposition hearing is the next level in terms of severity. In cases in which the court places a juvenile on formal probation, the court also renders an order stating the terms and conditions of the probation. If the juvenile breaks any of those terms and conditions, a motion to modify the disposition can be filed with the court, and the court can add additional terms and conditions. Formal probation will have duration of at least one year. In certain cases involving serious conduct by the juvenile (such as a felony), the term of probation may be until the juvenile’s 17th or 18th birthday.
If the appropriate conditions are shown, the court may order that the juvenile be placed outside his or her home. The court can place a juvenile in both non-secure and secure facilities. The briefest placement currently available is for a period of 28 days. The Juvenile Probation Office makes a recommendation for a particular placement based on the type of programming offered at the placement. Again, the goal is to rehabilitate the juvenile. The longest program runs anywhere from 6 to 9 months. The court will make successful completion of the program at the placement a term of probation. Failure to abide by the rules of the placement could result in a modification of the disposition.
The “last resort” for disposition is commitment to the Texas Youth Commission for an indeterminate sentence. “Indeterminate” means that the juvenile would have to complete successfully the programming offered by TYC in order to be released on parole. TYC has authority to hold juveniles either in a facility or on parole until their 19th birthday. TYC offers programming similar to that offered by other placements in that rehabilitation of the juvenile is the foremost concern.
In certain types of cases, the petition alleging commission of delinquent conduct may be presented to the grand jury. If the grand jury approves the petition, the State may seek a determinate sentence for the juvenile. A determinate sentence can be from 10 to 40 years, depending on the underlying offense, and would involve transfer of the juvenile from juvenile probation to the adult community supervision office, or, if the juvenile was committed to TYC, a transfer from TYC to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division.
Finally, in cases of serious felony offenses, a juvenile may be “certified” to be tried as an adult. “Certified” is really a misnomer, because these cases involve a transfer of jurisdiction from the juvenile court to the appropriate criminal district court. In such cases, the juvenile must be examined to determine his mental state and sophistication. If jurisdiction is transferred, the juvenile is treated as an adult for all purposes, including being arrested and confined in jail until he or she makes bail. The case is then presented by to the grand jury for indictment. In Hale County, a juvenile who is tried as an adult becomes the responsibility of the District Attorney to prosecute, as the District Attorney prosecutes all adult criminal cases.
When a juvenile on probation fails to abide by the rules governing probation, the Juvenile Probation Office will make a report to the County Attorney’s Office. A motion to modify the disposition in the case will be filed. If the court finds that the juvenile did violate the terms of probation, the court will impose further sanctions or terms on the juvenile. This might involve an extension of the probation or placement out of the home.
Payment of restitution may be ordered in a juvenile case. The types of expenses that may be ordered paid are governed by the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. If restitution is ordered, its payment will be a term of the juvenile’s probation. The amount of restitution would be divided by the number of months in the probation. That monthly amount is paid by the juvenile to the Juvenile Probation Office and is forwarded to the victim. Parents of the juvenile are also made responsible for payment of restitution and are also ordered to make payments.
The County Attorney’s Office and the Juvenile Probation Office try very hard to collect all restitution due to a victim. Juveniles and their parents who do not make payments as ordered are taken back to court under a Motion for Contempt to showcause why they have failed to make payments and why the court should not hold them in contempt for failure to do so.
Local programs offered to juveniles on probation in Hale County are the Hale County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program (“JJAEP”) and the Special Needs Diversionary Program.
JJAEP is a non-residential boot camp and educational placement. The juveniles wear a uniform and participate in physical training each day. They also receive some counseling and work on their schoolwork in a self-paced program. This program provides structure for the juveniles and can help them catch up on missing credits for completion of high school.
The Special Needs Diversionary Program offers intensive supervision and counseling for juveniles and their families. This program also involves a collaboration of the Juvenile Probation Office and Central Plains Center.
Hale County has no local residential placements. The closest non-secure facility is the Parent Adolescent Center in Floydada. The closest secure facilities are in Lubbock and Amarillo. There are other secure and non-secure facilities with which the Juvenile Probation Office contracts located around the state.
The information provided on this web page is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be taken as legal advice. No warranty is made as to the accuracy or correctness of any information contained on this web page. Every legal problem has a unique set of facts and circumstances behind it. Persons seeking legal advice should contact their own attorney for that advice and should not rely on anything presented herein.