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What Determines When a Minor Can Be Tried as an Adult in Texas

In Texas, people under age 18 who are charged with crimes usually are diverted to juvenile court, where their cases are resolved without a criminal conviction. In some cases, however, the prosecution may seek to have a minor tried as an adult. This normally occurs when a crime of violence is charged or when the minor has a prior record.

Cases are transferred to adult criminal court by a process known as juvenile certification. The decision to do so rests with the juvenile court judge, who has wide discretion. The following factors are considered in the determination:

  • Age of the minor — In Texas, defendants aged 17 and older are automatically considered adults in the criminal justice system. For those younger than 17, the decision to transfer to adult court is based on other considerations. There is also different treatment possible for minors who reach the age of majority while their juvenile cases are pending.
  • Nature and gravity of the offense — Violent or otherwise serious offenses may increase the likelihood of a minor being tried as an adult. Examples are murder, aggravated robbery and sexual assault.
  • Criminal history of the minor — A juvenile with a history of delinquency or with a record of prior offenses is more likely to be tried as an adult.
  • Public safety concerns — The minor’s perceived danger to the community may influence a decision in favor of certification, especially in the case of a violent offense.
  • Likelihood of rehabilitation — The court will consider the minor’s amenability to rehabilitative measures in the juvenile justice system. The minor’s maturity level and family situation can be part of this analysis.

A certification for transfer requires a petition from the prosecutor seeking a waiver of juvenile court jurisdiction. The juvenile court then commissions a thorough review of the defendant’s background and social profile and of the nature and circumstances of the crime alleged. After the investigation is completed, the court holds a hearing, at which both the prosecution and the defense can present evidence.

If the case is transferred to criminal court, the juvenile defendant is generally subject to the same penalties as an adult offender. A juvenile defendant convicted of a sex crime must register as a sex offender but only for 10 years, whereas an adult sex offender may have to register for life.

In juvenile court, by contrast, if the judge finds the criminal charges to be true, the minor may be ordered to serve time in a facility, to attend treatment, to pay restitution to victims, to perform community service and/or to serve a period of probation.

Kevin L. Collins, P.C. in San Antonio is criminal defense law firm with wide experience in juvenile offender cases in southern Texas. If you or a family member are facing criminal charges, contact us online or call 210-598-8629 for an initial consultation.

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