Any time a minor is arrested and accused of a crime, the process can be complex and overwhelming. The way juvenile cases are handled varies per state. For minors facing charges in Montgomery County, the juvenile justice system can be intimidating.
A child is defined as a person between the ages of 10 and 17, according to Texas Code Annotated § 51.02. If a person between the ages of 10 and 17 is arrested, or a person between the ages of 17 and 18 is arrested for conduct he or she engaged in before his or her 17th birthday, that person typically would be tried in juvenile court.
Juveniles can be charged with a variety of misdemeanors and felonies throughout Texas. Some of those charges include:
- Traffic-related crimes, including juvenile DWI
- Drug charges
- Violent juvenile crimes
- Marijuana-related charges
- Juvenile sex crimes, including sexting
- Juvenile theft and property crimes
When a child is arrested in Texas, the juvenile probation department will conduct an intake. The process is used to determine if the offender meets the definition of “child” and if there is probable cause to believe he or she committed the offense. It will also be decided whether the child will be detained prior to trial.
In several Texas counties, including Montgomery County, when a child is taken into custody by law enforcement, he or she is directed to the detention facility where juvenile staff assesses if the child is a risk to the community or himself or herself. If a child is considered a danger, he or she will be detained pending trail.
A child also could be detained if he or she likely would leave the court’s jurisdiction; he or she has no parent or guardian; or the child has a previous conviction. Juveniles do not have the option to bond out of detention, and release must be ordered by the juvenile judge, including administrative releases.
If the child is detained, two hearings will quickly be held in juvenile court, the first within 48 hours to determine probable cause. A detention hearing will be held within one to two business days. Subsequent detention hearings will be held every 10 to 15 days to determine if the child should continue to be held pending trial.
The child will face a two-part trial, with the first part know as the adjudication phase. During this phase, a jury will determine whether the child committed the offense. Children are not found “guilty” or “not guilty.” Instead, the jury will decide whether the charges against the child are “true” or “not true.” In order to find true, the decision must be unanimous.
If the child decides to skip the adjudication phase of trial, he or she may enter a “stipulation,” the equivalent to pleading guilty. The trial will progress directly to disposition, or the sentencing phase. The child typically will not have the right to a jury at this phase, and a judge will decide the punishments.
The main difference between the adult and juvenile justice systems in Texas is the goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation, rather than punishment. Several counties, such as Montgomery County in Southeast Texas, work with a network of associates to help reform the child’s behavior.
For example, the Montgomery County Juvenile Probation Department works with police, guardians, Child Protective Services, Court Appointed Special Advocates, attorneys, mental health physicians, counselors and extended family to assist with the child’s best interest.
The child still will face a punishment, which could include a driver’s license suspension, probation, community service or even incarceration, depending on the crime committed. However, the goal of that punishment is to teach the child and change his or her behavior patterns.