Interviewer: Our topic today is going to be Juvenile Law. Can you provide an overview about this area of the law?
Gary Churak: Juvenile Law in Texas is under the family code. It’s actually under a civil code which governs the family law code, which also handles divorce and child custody and issues to that extent.
That’s where the Juvenile Code comes from. In Texas, it’s initiated by filing a petition just like a divorce petition or a civil petition alleging delinquent conduct. Then it could be anything from a minor misdemeanor to having a fight in school, to actually a major felony like sexual assault or aggravated assault.
In Texas, they can treat juveniles just like adults in certain situations. If the crime is serious enough, they will seek to certify the individuals as adults. This means, they will treat him for the purposes of prosecution just like he is an adult.
In Texas law, you’re an adult when you’re 17 years old. If you’re 17 years old and you’re a senior in high school, a junior in high school and you commit a crime, you’re going to be charged and prosecuted just like you’re an adult.
If you’re 16 or 15, you’re in the juvenile system. Based on the severity of the crime, they can have a hearing to certify you as an adult and try you as an adult. This means you’re now out of the juvenile system and you were looking at basically being sentenced or punished through as if you were an adult.
Also, they can do a determinative sentence. If they take the juvenile case and present it to the grand jury and get the grand jury to approve it, they can do what’s called a determinative sentence. That means that even though you’re being treated as a juvenile and tried in the juvenile court and if you’re convicted, they can send you to TYC, the Texas Youth Commission for a period of time to your 18th birthday.
But then once you turn 18, they will send you to prison to serve out the rest of your sentence.
Most juvenile cases are, for the lack of a better term, minor cases. They deal with shoplifting, assault, getting into fights with school, things to that extent. It’s almost ridiculous what they spend in court time with juveniles. Most of these offenses are just trivial. When students are involved in a fight at school, that issue should be handled in the school.
Instead of letting the parents punish them, they burden the criminal justice system. And it could cause problems with them later on in life.
People think that it’s a juvenile record is sealed and no one is ever going to find out about it. That is not correct. Unfortunately, juvenile records are accessible to people and people find out about juvenile cases. There is ways to seal them. We can talk about that down the road a little bit in this interview. Juvenile offenses are serious and people need to take them as such.