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Children Committing Unlawful Acts in Texas

Each year thousands of Texas children get into trouble with the law. Many of these cases are minor incidents that do not result in any lasting harm. But some juvenile offenses are quite serious and can result in probation, detention in a state rehabilitation facility, and in some cases even an adult prison sentence.

Defining Delinquent Conduct

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) is a special state agency that oversees cases involving offenses committed by children—that is, anyone between the ages of 10 and 17, as well as anyone between the ages of 17 and 18 who is accused of “delinquent conduct” or “conduct indicating a need for supervision” (CINS) prior to their 17th birthday. Children under 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offense in Texas, although the TJJD may provide rehabilitation services for “at-risk” children as young as seven.

Children are tried before a Juvenile Court rather than the normal criminal court system. As noted above, there are two broad categories of juvenile offenses: delinquent conduct and CINS. Offenses classified as CINS include certain types of crimes as well as status offenses. A status offense is conduct that is normally illegal for a child but not an adult, such as truancy or purchasing and using tobacco products. CINS also includes any offense that would normally result in a fine, but not jail time, for an adult. Texas law also considers “prostitution” and “sexting” to be CINS-level offenses. For any CINS offense, the Juvenile Court may place the child on probation.

In contrast, delinquent conduct refers to more serious criminal offenses that may result in a child’s placement in a TJJD rehabilitation facility. Delinquent conduct includes any felony offense or misdemeanor subject to jail time for an adult. Any type of DWI or intoxication offense is considered delinquent conduct. Any violation of a previous order from the juvenile court or other law enforcement agency is also classified as delinquent conduct.

Juvenile vs. Adult Punishments

If a child is charged with delinquent conduct, he is tried in juvenile court. This is similar to a criminal trial in adult court. The key difference is how the juvenile court handles sentencing. Aside from probation, which must end before the child’s 18th birthday, the juvenile court may confine the child to a TJJD facility for a determinate or indeterminate sentence. In the case of an indeterminate sentence, the child must be released from custody by his 19th birthday. But with a determinate sentence, the child may be transferred to an adult prison upon turning 18 depending on the circumstances.

Get Help from a Houston Juvenile Crimes Attorney

If your child has been charged with any type of juvenile offense, it is important to take the matter seriously. The Texas juvenile justice system imposes progressively higher sanctions for multiple offenders. In other words, you do not want your child to be found guilty of even a minor offense if it can be avoided. An experienced Houston attorney can help you and your child in dealing with the Texas judicial system. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates to speak with an attorney right away.