Juvenile courts in Texas are designed by the juvenile board in each county, or are special courts created by statute, and may be district, criminal district domestic (family), juvenile, county courts-at-law, or county courts.
The juvenile court has jurisdiction over children between the ages of 10 and 16 and of children who are 17 but who committed offenses before becoming 17.
Juvenile court judges have many options from outright dismissal to long-term confinement in a correctional facility. For felony offenses, a youth 15 or older can be "certified" to stand trial in the adult criminal courts.
For other serious offenders, the Determinate Sentencing Law allows a juvenile to be confined up to 40 years, first in a Texas Juvenile Justice Department facility, followed by an optional court transfer to prison.
For less serious offenders who require confinement, the judge may order an indeterminate commitment to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department where the child may be held until his or her 19th birthday.
In most cases, however, the judge orders some form of probation supervision in the community, or placement in a private state or local residential treatment facility.
Juvenile Versus Adult Proceedings
Juvenile cases are civil rather than criminal in nature, and regulated by the Texas Family Code as opposed to the Texas Penal Code which governs adult criminal violations. An adult is arrested, whereas a juvenile is "detained" or "taken into custody". An adult may be placed in jail or prison, or may be released on bond pending trial. A juvenile, if detained, must be held in a special facility segregated from adult violators and has no right to bail when placed "in detention".
However, the juvenile must be have a "detention hearing" before the judge not later than the second working day after the juvenile is taken into custody. At this hearing, instead of being known as the defendant, the juvenile is known as the "respondent". After the hearing, the juvenile may be released to a parent, guardian or custodian with strict conditions for the juvenile’s appearance at a trial. The judge may order the juvenile to remain in detention if he or she:
Is likely to run away or be removed from the county
Is not receiving proper supervision, care or protection by parents or guardians
Has no parent or guardian
May have committed a felony and may be dangerous
Has previously been found to be delinquent and is likely to commit an offense if released
Rights of Juveniles
Juveniles have most of the constitutional rights granted to all citizens, including:
The right to know what they are accused of
The right to represented by an attorney, and the right to a court-appointed attorney or public defender if the juvenile, parents or guardians cannot afford to hire an attorney
The presumption of innocence until proven guilty by the state
The right to confront and questions the state’s witnesses and the person accusing the juvenile
The right to remain silent and not testify
The right to summon witnesses, by subpoena if necessary, to give testimony on behalf of the juvenile