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How Texas Treats Minors Charged with a Crime

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

How Texas Treats Minors Charged with a Crime

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The Texas Criminal Process For Minors

When minors are arrested and charged with a crime in Texas, they will undergo a process that is very different from the process used for adult offenders. The differences can be found throughout the entire process, from the way that charges are filed to the way that sentences are assigned.

It is commonly assumed that minors are treated less harshly by the criminal justice system and there is some truth to this in the way that sentences are applied. However, minors can still be punished harshly for breaking the law and they may be subject to some unique penalties that aren’t often applied in cases involving adult offenders.


Differences In Cases Involving Minors

The differences between the way that adult criminal cases and the way that criminal cases involving minors are handled in Texas can be broken down into three categories:

While there may be some additional small differences between these types of cases, they are generally found in these three categories. These differences exist because the legal system recognizes that minors may be more likely to break the law due to their inexperience, their impulsive nature or their susceptibility to peer pressure. For this reason, the judicial system sometimes offers leniency for minors. For example, a minor who is charged with vandalism may be punished less harshly than a 25-year-old offender of the same crime.

In Texas, a person aged 17 or younger is legally considered a minor. For this reason, a person who commits a crime while in this age group may be prosecuted in juvenile court rather than adult court. This can apply even if a minor turns 18 before charges are filed. For example, a 16-year-old who commits a crime but who is not charged until turning 18 may still be tried in juvenile court, even though they are now legally an adult.

However, in some cases, a person who is legally a minor can be tried as an adult. This is usually done in cases involving serial offenders or in cases involving minors who commit very serious offenses, such as rape or murder.

  • Charging

Minors can be charged with crimes that adults cannot be charged for, such as truancy or minor in possession of tobacco. They can also be charged for their offense in a different way than an adult would be for the same offense. For example, a minor who is arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol can be charged with the less serious offense of Driving Under The Influence, rather than the more serious charge of Driving While Intoxicated.

  • Sentencing

Minors may receive less serious penalties for their crimes, although this is often due to the fact that minors may be more likely to be arrested for minor crimes, such as truancy and vandalism.

Minors who are convicted of their charges may face less incarceration time or fines in some cases. However, minors who are convicted of serious offenses like murder can be tried as adults and ordered to serve their sentences in adult incarceration facilities.

Juvenile detention facilities are typically less severe and restrictive than adult facilities, with a greater focus placed on rehabilitation rather than confinement.

  • Adjudication/Disposition

One of the biggest differences between adult and juvenile cases in Texas is the way in which the cases are adjudicated or how they are disposed after sentencing has been passed. For example, minors may be more likely to be given a chance to have their records cleared after their case has been closed. Some minors may be offered deferred adjudication if they meet certain requirements during their punishment phase. This could include staying out of trouble and maintaining good grades in school. If they successfully complete these requirements and don’t commit additional offenses, they may have their charges dropped so that the case is not stored on their criminal record.

Help For Minors Charged With A Crime

Minors who are charged with criminal offenses may be in serious need of legal representation. Many minors are first-time offenders and they may be unaware of the realities of the criminal justice system. A qualified criminal defense attorney can help minors find out about deferred adjudication programs for first-time offenders that they would otherwise not know about.

A conviction for a criminal offense as a minor can be very serious. It can affect school enrollment, job prospects and the college application process. An experienced attorney may be able to help a minor defendant fight their charges in court. A lawyer may also help to convince the jury that the minor deserves a chance at deferred adjudication or that their case should be tried in juvenile court rather than adult court.

It is in the best interest of any minor who is charged with a criminal offense in Texas to consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Their friends and family members may be able to help them reach out to an attorney who can consider their case.

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