If your child was arrested or involved in criminal activity, call an experienced Houston juvenile defense attorney right away. Although Texas treats underage defendants separately from adult offenders, your child could quickly become lost in the criminal justice system.
The Law Offices of Ned Barnett helps parents, guardians, and minor defendants understand the charges against them. We vigorously defend your child to avoid excessively harsh punishment or permanent damage to their future.
We recommend that you and your child decline to answer questions from the police until you talk to a lawyer. Call the Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 for a free, confidential consultation today.
Juvenile Crimes Are Not Child’s Play to the Court
Some parents mistakenly believe that criminal convictions for minor children simply go away when they become adults, without severe or long-lasting effects. In Texas, juveniles are children between the ages of 10 and 16. At 17 years old, the Texas criminal justice system may charge them with an adult offense.
As juvenile defense attorneys with a combined legal experience of more than 30 years, we have witnessed the tragic consequences of children who lack a strong defender by their side. It is possible to have your child’s juvenile criminal record expunged or sealed, but there are no guarantees.
Responsible, Appropriate Consequences for Your Child
Underage offenders get into trouble for several reasons: drug or alcohol abuse, negative peer pressure, psychological issues, or simply rebellion. Most parents prefer that their children take responsibility for their actions and receive appropriate consequences.
However, some prosecutors are unnecessarily harsh on minor defendants, especially under extenuating circumstances. Working with an experienced juvenile defense lawyer helps parents and children work toward the best possible outcome.
Different Types of ‘Trouble’
The various offenses your child may get into trouble for are not the same. Legally, the court makes a distinction between conduct indicating a need for supervision (CINS) and delinquent conduct.
Conduct Indicating a Need for Supervision
Offenses that fall into the CINS categories include truancy (skipping school), running away, sexting, and lesser violations involving tobacco and alcohol. These behaviors require immediate attention but do not rise to the level of adult crimes or juvenile detention.
Delinquent conduct violates state or federal law. These offenses include driving under the influence (DUI), intoxicated manslaughter, theft, sex offenses, and assault. Consequently, the penalties for delinquent conduct are stiffer.
Common Juvenile Offenses in Houston
As a former prosecutor, Houston criminal defense attorney Ned Barnett has handled all kinds of juvenile offenses. Since 1994, our firm has successfully defended the rights of countless clients in many situations.
- Truancy – Minors must be in school unless they have lawfully withdrawn, are homeschooled, or obtained their degree. Under Texas law, students between the ages of 12 and 18 could be charged with truancy after ten unexcused absences. In addition, parents also face criminal charges.
- Alcohol Offenses – The legal age for buying, possessing, and consuming alcohol is 21. Minors caught with possession of alcohol or intoxicated risk criminal charges.
- DUI – When underage drinking leads to DUI, a convicted teen could spend up to 180 days in jail, a maximum fine of $2,000, and a suspended driver’s license.
- Terroristic Threats – Whether your child smuggled a firearm into school or participated in the act of terrorism, the consequences are severe.
- Drug Offenses – Drug offenses range from carrying a joint to selling or distributing drugs. Texas courts will not shy away from charging a minor as an adult if their drug crime involves large quantities or any amount of controlled substances.
- Theft – Youngsters who steal low-value objects might escape harsh penalties. Repeat offenders or stealing valuable items can increase the likelihood of incarceration.
- Vandalism – Destroying private or public property (vandalism) is prevalent among juveniles. If the property is worth $100 or less, most teens get away with paying a fine. Penalties increase with the value and amount of damage associated with the offense.
Penalties & Sentencing for Minors
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) states that underage defendants receive “treatment and rehabilitation,” emphasizing protective, not punitive measures. However, a convicted minor could spend up to 40 years incarcerated, depending on the nature of the crime and prior criminal history. Juveniles can also be charged as adults in certain circumstances.
Under Texas law, the court and probation department can impose a wide range of punishments depending on the child’s age, nature of the crime, and prior criminal behavior.
These options include:
- Supervisory Caution: The probation department counsels the minor, who may also refer the child/family to social services.
- Deferred Prosecution: A convicted minor may avoid prosecution by obeying the terms of a six-month voluntary probation period.
- Detention: Underage defendants could be incarcerated (detained) at one of the 22 facilities within the Texas Youth Commission up to age 21.
- Imprisonment: Depending on the minor’s criminal history and nature of the crime, they could be transferred to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice after completing the juvenile portion of their sentence.
- Probation: Minor defendants can receive probation at home, foster care, or state juvenile institutions. Terms and conditions of probation vary but could include mandatory community service, curfew, and loss of driving privileges.
- Restitution: Many theft convictions involve payment to the victim or the victim’s family.
- Community Service: Community service could be a stand-alone sentence or condition for probation or early release.
In addition to court-ordered penalties, there are collateral consequences of a juvenile offense, such as:
- Loss of driving privileges
- Restricted travel
- Electronic monitoring
- Required check-ins with a juvenile justice officer
- Disruptions to education, including lengthy absences, suspension, or expulsion
- Difficulty getting into college
- Difficulty getting a job in the future
- Sex offender registration
- Immigration issues such as ineligibility for citizenship or deportation
An experienced juvenile defense lawyer could help your child avoid these long-term penalties for youthful indiscretion.
Alternative & Diversion Programs
An alternative or diversion program allows an underage defendant to take responsibility for criminal actions without a traditional path through the criminal justice system. Diversion programs help troubled teens or children take responsibility while encouraging them to make better choices.
There are several juvenile penalties and diversion programs, including:
Youth Empowerment Services & Supervision
The Youth Empowerment Services and Supervision Program targets juveniles placed on probation for gang-related involvement or activity. The program works closely with the city’s anti-gang task force.
Marijuana Diversion Program
If your child faces a marijuana possession charge, an attorney could push for the Marijuana Diversion Program. This drug education course teaches participants about healthier options for dealing with life’s problems.
Fifth Ward Diversion Program
The Fifth Ward Diversion Program uses a restorative justice approach for minors who attend certain Fifth Ward schools. The program’s informal alternative to the court includes community service, mentorship, educational advocacy, and service referrals.
Therapeutic Connections Unit
The intense case management and supervision of the Therapeutic Connections Unit may prevent underage sex offenders from further criminal acts. TCU is also an option for minors with significant mental health impairments and intellectual developmental issues.
Expungement is possible upon the successful completion of many diversion programs.
Juvenile Court Process Overview
You should know that not every juvenile offense leads to formal court proceedings. Law enforcement officers at juvenile facilities assess each case to determine the most appropriate penalty.
Here is an overview of the Texas juvenile court process.
An informal disposition is outside the formal court system. It typically applies to first-time offenders and might include:
- Diversion program consisting of community service, educational courses, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, and restitution to the victims of the offense
- Appearance in the juvenile court system
Repeat offenders, or minors that commit more serious crimes, could be sent to court. This process includes:
- Detention Hearing in which the defendant could be released to their parents or detained
- Transfer Hearing to determine if the minor’s case should transfer to an adult court
- Adjudication Hearing to determine the rules of evidence
- Disposition Hearing in which a minor may plead “true to the facts” and the judge issues punishment
What Parents Can Do
Your child has the right to remain silent, the right to ask for a lawyer, and the right to a jury trial. Your child is also responsible for fulfilling their part in a legal decision.
- Visit and talk to your child during detainment
- Hire an attorney to work on your child’s behalf
- Expect notification if your teen is taken into custody
- Speak at certain hearings
Even if you were unaware of your child’s illegal activity, you are expected to:
- Attend your minor child’s hearings
- Help your child comply with court orders
- Comply with court orders directed at you
Expungement for Juvenile Crimes
Having a criminal conviction on a juvenile record makes it difficult to move forward in life when your child becomes an adult. Seeking to expunge or seal juvenile criminal records plays an essential role in future educational, professional, and personal success.
Expungement is like a “do-over” for individuals with a criminal conviction. An expungement order from a judge means that law enforcement agencies and the court erase your criminal record. You do not have to mention your previous legal encounters with employers, colleges, or landlords.
Sealing a Record
Sealing a record ensures that the public cannot access it. A sealed criminal record gives you some protection and privacy, although police departments and immigration agencies can access it.
The Law Offices of Ned Barnett can advise you and your child about which crime may be eligible for expungement or record sealing.
Benefits of a Houston Juvenile Defense Attorney
You can do many things as a parent to help your child in legal trouble. Yet no amount of parental concern can replace the knowledge and experience of a juvenile defense attorney.
As a parent himself, attorney Ned Barnett understands how frustrating it can be to see your underage child in these situations. We fight to defend your child and obtain the best outcome.
Proactive Defense Strategies
Our Houston juvenile defense lawyers look for weaknesses and flaws in the arrest process and the prosecution’s case. We create a customized defense based on the circumstances and evidence. Your child’s age and previous criminal record also affect our defense strategies.
Police officers make mistakes. Another teen may be the actual offender.
It is possible to have the charges dismissed due to procedural errors. For example, officers must read juveniles their Miranda rights, just as they do for adult suspects.
Our lawyers can seek to remove evidence if illegally or unlawfully obtained. In many cases, the prosecution could drop the case due to insufficient evidence.
We are skilled negotiators who can often negotiate down to a lesser charge.
Coercion or Duress
Minors who face gang-related criminal charges might be involuntary or unwilling participants.
As a parent, it’s normal to have questions and concerns. We will answer all your most common questions here. Reach out to our office if you have a specific concern not mentioned below.
When are Minors Charged as Adults?
Texas allows adolescent defendants who are 17 to face adult charges for felony crimes. These include manslaughter, homicide, rape, and certain drug crimes. Individuals as young as 14 are also charged as adults depending on the offense.
Texas has a “Once an Adult, Always an Adult” rule that a child convicted of a felony in adult court remains in the adult criminal justice system.
My Son or Daughter Was Arrested at School. What Do I Do?
You have the right to be notified when your minor child is arrested at school. Call an attorney immediately.
Then, call the police department and speak to the booking officer. Tell them that an attorney is on the way and that your child should not be questioned until represented by legal counsel.
Will My Child Go to Juvie?
Not every minor defendant goes to juvie (juvenile detention center). Much depends on their age, alleged crime, and whether they have previous encounters with the police. An attorney can help you, and your child understand the charges and potential penalties.
Do Minors Have the Right to an Attorney?
Minors have the right to be represented by an attorney, the same as adults. School-age children are more likely to talk to the police because they might not understand the concept of self-incrimination. Anyone arrested or questioned about a crime should have an attorney to protect their rights.
Can I (Parent) Be Present for Questioning?
Texas law does not require that a parent or attorney be present while questioning a minor. Juvenile defendants have the right to request that their parent or attorney (or both) be present for questioning.
Learn More About Our Juvenile Defense Services
- Can Juveniles be Registered Sex Offenders in Texas?
- Juvenile Pranks Can Lead to Serious Criminal Charges
- What is the Difference Between Expunging and Sealing a Juvenile Record in Texas?
- What Happens to Juveniles Charged with Violent Crimes?
- Why Keeping a Texas Drug Conviction Off Your Child’s Record is Vital
Let Our Experienced Juvenile Defense Lawyers Help
Parents cannot protect their children from every possible scenario. However, if your child is arrested, you can help by calling the Law Offices of Ned Barnett. Since 1994, we’ve helped minors, adults, and families who find themselves in legal trouble.