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Breaking down Texas juvenile laws

Unlike most states in the U.S. where the cutoff age to be tried as a juvenile is 18, in Texas, the cutoff age is actually 17.
Credit: Micha? Chodyra
Photo: Thinkstock

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor’s note: Days after the mass shooting, the Austin Police Department identified a suspect who had been charged in connection to the shooting. The Travis County district attorney and APD later dropped all charges against that person. KVUE has removed that person’s mugshot and name from all web stories.

The Austin mass shooting raised several questions about juvenile laws in Texas.

The first suspect arrested in connection with Saturday's Sixth Street shooting will be tried as a juvenile, according to APD.

The reason why one suspect will be tried as a juvenile and the other as an adult is the difference in their age.

Unlike most states in the U.S. where the cutoff age to be tried as a juvenile is 18, in Texas, the cutoff age is actually 17.

According to a report by the Texas District and County Attorney Association, under Texas law, a person who is at least 10 years old and under the age of 17 can be charged as a juvenile. However, once a person turns 17 in Texas, they are legally considered an adult, and any criminal charges would be handled in adult court.

There are a few differences between being tried as an adult versus a juvenile.

First, there is no requirement that an officer must obtain an arrest warrant before arresting a juvenile, according to the report. A law enforcement officer may take a juvenile into custody if there is probable cause to believe the juvenile violated a criminal law, engaged in delinquent conduct or conduct indicating a need for supervision, or violated a court-ordered condition of probation.

However, when a juvenile is taken into custody, they must be delivered directly to a juvenile processing office and a parent or guardian must be notified immediately. 

Within 48 hours from when the juvenile was taken into custody (including weekends and holidays), a court or a magistrate must conduct a detention hearing to determine whether to release or detain the juvenile in a facility until a court appearance.

Secondly, criminal allegations against a juvenile are filed as a petition in a court with designated jurisdiction over juveniles. This is because juvenile charges are not tried in front of a grand jury for indictment.

For a detained juvenile, the State has only 30 days from the initial detention hearing to file a petition alleging a felony or the detained juvenile must be released from custody. Also, there is no set minimum or maximum sentence in the juvenile system.

According to the report, in adult court, a person found guilty of aggravated robbery faces a minimum of five to 99 years or life in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Institutional Division or possibly probation. An offender under the age of 17 convicted of the same offense would face a range of punishment varying from commitment to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department until their 19th birthday or placement on probation that can last until their 18th birthday. 

However, if the juvenile committed a serious felony, the juvenile’s punishment can be transferred to adult court or adult prison as a determinate sentence, or the court can be asked to waive its jurisdiction over the juvenile and certify the juvenile as an adult.

To read more about Texas Juvenile Law, click here.

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