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New Youth Diversion Program for 2024

At Tad Nelson & Associates, we have represented many juvenile offenders after arrest. Often, a worried parent calls our office after their child is picked up by the police for committing a crime. The parents have no idea what is happening and are worried about getting their child home.

We can represent your child in juvenile proceedings. The sooner you call, the more we can help. We can defend juveniles from all sorts of charges, including sex crimes, intoxication, disorderly conduct

A new law goes into effect in 2024 that will affect youth diversion programs in Texas courts, making it easier for those accused of minor offenses to avoid punishment. Call Tad Nelson if your child was arrested. A Galveston criminal defense attorney can review the facts in a confidential consultation.

Juvenile Justice in Texas

Unlike the adult criminal justice system, which is focused on punishment, the juvenile system prioritizes rehabilitating minor offenders. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work in theory. But juvenile justice in Texas has often been more punitive than the systems in other states. It’s possible for a minor to be charged as an adult, depending on the circumstances. And minors can end up with a criminal record for even minor offenses committed when they were teens.

A law passed in 2023 seeks to make diversion and rehabilitation the norm for minor offenses. The Texas Youth Diversion and Early Intervention Act strives for more effective and earlier intervention.

Under the law, every municipal and justice court in the state must adopt a youth diversion plan, which should go into effect before the end of 2024. The law allows courts to designate a youth diversion coordinator who will implement the diversion plan. The coordinate will help determine who is eligible for diversion and monitor the effectiveness.

Texas legislators recognized that many Class C misdemeanors are often the first crimes youth commit and are, therefore, the “entry point” into the justice system for many young people. These are called “gateway” offenses. How the state responds is critical to reducing the likelihood that a youth will become a lifelong offender.

What Has Changed?

Before passage of this law, municipal and justice judges could order diversion only after there was a conviction or a deferral of disposition. The law changes that. Judges will now have greater discretion to order diversion when a youth is charged with certain Class C gateway offenses. These offenses include any minor Class C misdemeanor such as:

  • Public intoxication
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Simple assault without serious injury
  • Petty theft

Unsurprisingly, youth who commit these crimes often go on to commit more serious offenses as adults. For example, a teen caught shoplifting could, as an adult, commit grand larceny. A teen who commits public intoxication is at a greater risk of drunk driving as an adult. In short, these offenses are minor—but they signal that intervention is critical. The state benefits from early intervention, which should reduce crime in the state.

Going forward, most Class C misdemeanors will result in a youth being given diversion instead of punishment. These youth should benefit from educational and rehabilitation programs for up to 180 days.

Not all youth will be eligible. For example, they might have had a previous unsuccessful diversion. They might also commit a more serious offense which disqualifies them.

The creation of the Youth Diversion Coordinator also introduces a measure of accountability into the system. This individual will monitor the use of diversion within a court and collaborate with other professionals to keep everyone focused on diversionary strategies where appropriate. We are excited to see where this leads.

We Can Help

Our law firm understands the juvenile justice system in Texas. Your child has a right to a lawyer, even in family court where most offenses are tried. Your child also has a right to put on a defense and is not required to quickly admit that they committed the alleged offense.

Having a juvenile record creates problems, even if the record is “sealed.” One misconception is that all juvenile offenses will be kept under wraps and never see the light of day. However, a person is sometimes required to reveal any juvenile offenses, which can hurt them in the job search process as adults.

For these reasons, we strongly encourage all parents to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if their child is arrested, even for a very minor offense like public intoxication or disorderly conduct. We can review the repercussions and discuss what defense strategy to adopt to benefit your child.