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When Can a Minor Be Tried as an Adult in Texas?

In Texas, there is a separate court system for juvenile offenders. In the vast majority of cases, children under 18 years of age have their cases heard in juvenile court, where they are resolved with the goal of rehabilitation. However, Texas law permits minors to be tried as adults in cases of violent crimes or where prior rehabilitative efforts have failed. Those cases are transferred to criminal court by a process known as certification.

A certification for transfer to criminal court is not automatic, since the juvenile court can and does take serious criminal cases. A transfer first requires a petition from the district attorney seeking a waiver of juvenile court jurisdiction. The juvenile court then commissions an investigation. This entails 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, a report is submitted and the court holds a hearing.

The certification hearing is adversarial. The state offers evidence that the defendant should be tried as an adult. The defense then has the opportunity to offer evidence that the juvenile court should retain jurisdiction. Since the penalties in regular court are more severe, the accused usually resists transfer.

In deciding on whether to grant certification, the family court judge must first find that there is substantial evidence of the defendant’s guilt and that the case could properly be tried in criminal court. The judge then weighs four factors:

  • The seriousness of the crime
  • The defendant’s level of maturity
  • The defendant’s juvenile court record
  • The threat to public safety, including the likelihood of the defendant re-offending

If the case is transferred to criminal court, the juvenile defendant is generally subject to the same penalties as an adult offender. However, a juvenile defendant convicted of capital murder automatically gets life in prison with the possibility of parole, whereas an adult could get the death penalty or life without parole. 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.

Kevin L. Collins, P.C. in San Antonio is criminal defense law firm with wide experience in juvenile offender cases in south central 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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