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Juvenile Penalties & Diversion Programs

As a teenager, it can be terrifying to be taken into custody by a police officer. Most of what you know about the law and going to court may be from TV shows. It is unlikely that you understand your rights or anything about the process you face. What you need to know if you have been picked up by the police for delinquent behavior or conduct in need of supervision (CINS), is that Texas will not lock you in jail and throw away the key. Texas follows a progressive sanctions model when determining juvenile penalties. The state believes it is more important to focus on rehabilitation than sending you to a detention facility.

If you or your child are facing a charge and have questions about juvenile penalties in Texas, contact experienced Houston juvenile lawyer Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free consultation.

First Offender Program

After being taken into custody by an officer, you may either be referred to a first offender program or the juvenile court system. Every juvenile board in Texas is required to have guidelines for informal juvenile processes, or a first offender program. First offender programs use appropriate consequences instead of detention or probation to promote rehabilitation, including:

  • Community service
  • Vocational training
  • Education
  • Restitution to victims
  • Counseling or other rehabilitation services

You may be referred to a first offender program instead of court if you:

  • Are a first-time offender
  • Were previously a first-time offender who was released without going to juvenile court or being adjudicated as having committed CINS
  • Did not commit a felony or a misdemeanor involving violence or a weapon

Participating in a first offender program is voluntary, and you and your parents or guardians must consent to your involvement in the program. If you successfully complete the program, your case will be closed and you will not incur a juvenile criminal record. However, if you fail to complete the requirements of the first offender program or you are taken into custody again within 90 days of completing the program, then you can be referred to the juvenile court and have your actions adjudicated.

Pre-Adjudication Detention

You can be detained before your adjudication hearing if the court finds during your detention hearing that it is not safe and appropriate to release you to your parents or a guardian. You may be detained if the court thinks you are likely to run away, may hurt yourself or others, have a lack of supervision, or have been in juvenile court for prior delinquent conduct. You will receive a new detention hearing every 10 days until your circumstances are adjudicated.

Deferred Prosecution

If you are sent to the juvenile court system, there is still an alternative process to formal adjudication of the charges. Deferred prosecution is meant to help when you do not have a history of delinquent behavior. Like a first offender program, it is voluntary and you must consent to participating in the process. However, there is an exception that a judge cannot grant deferred prosecution for certain alcohol-related offenses.

During deferred prosecution, you are typically on probation for six months. During this time, you cannot violate any laws or rules of the probation. You may have to provide restitution to your victims, pay fines, complete community service, take classes, or go to rehab. Once you complete the duration of your deferred prosecution and all the requirements of probation, your case is closed. If you violate any laws or terms of the probation, your original case will move forward in juvenile court.


If you are referred to the juvenile court and found to have committed delinquent conduct or CINS, you can be sentenced to probation. This is a lesser punishment under the law than detention. Under probation, you may be able to continue living at home and attending school. However, if your home is not suitable, you may be placed in the home of a relative, a foster home, or residential rehabilitation facility.

During probation you have to follow certain rules, obey a curfew, complete community service, and check in regularly with an officer. You may be required to attend education classes or drug or alcohol rehabilitation. The court can delay or suspend your driver’s license for a period of time. You may also be subject to electronic monitoring and restricted travel. Probation can only last through your 18th birthday.

Texas Juvenile Justice Department Detention & Parole

If you were found to have committed delinquent behavior, you can be given a determinate or indeterminate sentenced with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD). A determinate sentence means that you will be detained for a specific amount of time at a TJJD detention facility. For sentences that extend beyond your 19th birthday, you will be transferred to an adult prison or granted adult parole.

An indeterminate sentence means you will be detained until it is appropriate to release you, which means you have shown improvement through treatment, or when you turn 19 years old. Most minimum indeterminate sentences are between 9 and 24 months, depending on the severity of your behavior and history.

When you are released from the TJJD facility, you will likely have to serve a certain amount of parole time. This will be like probation, where you must abide by certain rules and report to an officer.

A Houston Juvenile Defense Lawyer Can Help

If you face charges of delinquent behavior or conduct indicating a need for supervision, you may be able to avoid harsh penalties through participating in a first offender program or deferred prosecution. To minimize the consequences of this situation, it is best to work with a lawyer experienced in juvenile offenses and the Texas juvenile court system. Your future is too important to gain a juvenile criminal record.

Call The Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free consultation as soon as possible.