Varghese Summersett

Are Texas juvenile hearings open to the public?

It depends on the age of the child. If the child is 14 or older, Texas juvenile hearings are generally open to the public.

Under Sec. 54.08 of the Texas Family code, however, hearings are closed to the public if the child is under the age of 14 at the time of the hearing.

A judge can open the hearing for a child under 14 to the public if they find that it’s in the best interest of the child or if they deem the public would be better served by opening the hearing.

If your child has been detained by juvenile services, they need experienced representation as soon as possible. Varghese Summersett’s Lisa Herrick is one of only three lawyers in Tarrant County Board Certified in Juvenile Law.

If a certified juvenile stands trial as an adult, are the hearings open to the public? 

Yes. If a child is certified to stand trial as an adult, they’ll be moved to Texas criminal court. Therefore, the court proceedings would be open to the public. 

Can a judge close Texas juvenile hearings from the public?

Yes. A judge may close Texas juvenile hearings from the public if “good cause to exclude the public.”  Texas law doesn’t require juvenile judges to provide a written order or statement explaining their reasoning if they close a hearing.

If a juvenile is certified to stand trial as an adult, can a judge close the proceedings?  

Yes.  However, according to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, a judge must hold a hearing to explain their reasoning for closing a criminal proceeding.

During the hearing, the judge must allow the media and others to argue against closing a hearing. The judge must ensure that closing the hearing won’t infringe on First Amendment rights or that a criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial is in question. The judge is supposed to consider alternatives to closing the courtroom. A judge could question prospective or seated jurors on whether they’ve been exposed to the prejudicial information at hand, or the judge could sequester the jury. Other alternatives for the judge include changing the venue or using jurors from another area. They could also postpone the trial to let any issues at the moment diminish.

If a judge determines no alternatives are available, they must also determine a closed hearing is in the best interest of the defendant. The closure order must be tailored to protect the defendant’s rights without unnecessarily restricting public access.

Who is required at Tarrant County juvenile hearings?

Each juvenile hearing in Tarrant County requires a judge, an attorney representing the state, and the child, along with their attorney and a parent or guardian. A representative of the juvenile probation department is also required during each hearing.

If a Texas juvenile hearing is closed to the public, are the victims and their families allowed to attend?

Yes, in a closed juvenile hearing, victims and their families are allowed to attend hearings unless they are witnesses in the case, and the testimony would be materially affected.

What happens if a judge improperly closes a Texas juvenile hearing?

In 2014, a Tarrant County judge closed several hearings involving a minor who pleaded guilty to capital murder.

District Judge Jean Boyd defended one of the closures at the time by saying from the bench “that this media coverage is not conducive to the rehabilitation of the juveniles.”

Local media objected to the closure and petitioned that Boyd release transcripts of the proceedings. 

She responded to the petition with an explanation of her reasoning. One hearing, she said, was closed out of concern that pretrial publicity would affect seating an impartial jury. Another hearing was closed because of the sexual nature of the crime, although prosecutors had agreed to omit those details during the hearing. She also voiced concern with the media’s decision to publish the name and photograph of a juvenile in an unrelated high-profile case in her court.

Later that year, the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth reversed Boyd’s decision. It ruled she abused her discretion to close the hearings in the case that sentenced the teen to 26 years behind bars.

Does your child need help with a juvenile hearing? Call us.

If your child has been detained by Tarrant County Juvenile Services, make sure they’re represented by an experienced juvenile attorney. Varghese Summersett’s Lisa Herrick is one of three attorneys Board Certified in Juvenile Law in Tarrant County. For a free consultation, call 817-203-2220.

Varghese Summersett is a premier criminal defense firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. Our attorneys focus exclusively on criminal law and represent clients charged with crimes at both the state and federal level. We handle everything from DWI to capital murder to white collar crime. Collectively, our attorneys bring together more than 100 years of criminal law experience and have tried more than 550 cases before Texas juries. All of our senior attorneys served as former state or federal prosecutors and four are Board Certified in Criminal law, the highest designation an attorney can reach. We are the firm people turn to when the stakes are high and they are facing the biggest problem in their lives. - Contact Varghese at  
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