The criminal legal system has a special set of rules for juveniles, often referred to as juvenile law. In Texas, the juvenile law rules apply to people between the ages of 10 and 16. Once a person reaches 17 years of age, they are considered adults and any criminal matters would be adjudicated by the standard Texas criminal justice system. Contrast this to family law, where 17-year-olds are still considered minors. The Juvenile Justice Code contains statutes that apply to arrests, hearings and punishments under juvenile law.
Arrests of juveniles
One of the primary differences between adult and juvenile arrests is that a juvenile may be arrested without a warrant. Police can take a juvenile into custody based on probable cause that the juvenile violated probation, behaved as a delinquent, is in need of supervision or violated criminal law. Behavior that might indicate need of supervision for juveniles includes misdemeanors punishable only by a fine. So, a juvenile may be arrested for juvenile crimes that will ultimately be punished with only a fine.
Hearings for juveniles
Once a juvenile has been arrested, Texas law requires that the juvenile be presented to a processing office without unnecessary delay and his or her legal guardian must be notified. The arrested juvenile must have a hearing before a judge or magistrate within 48 hours of his or her arrest. The purpose of that hearing is to determine whether or not the juvenile should be detained or released prior to the court appearance on the juvenile criminal charges.
Punishment of juveniles
The Texas statutes applying to juveniles do not establish any minimum or maximum sentence lengths. Typically, the punishment will end by the juvenile’s 19th birthday. In egregious cases, though, the state may seek a determinate sentence, whereby the juvenile may be tried as an adult and the punishment can be much longer. The system establishes different rules for juveniles for moral and philosophical reasons. The system generally doesn’t want to punish someone forever for their juvenile crimes.