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Comprehensive Guide to Juvenile Defense in Texas

Navigating the complexities of juvenile law in Texas can be challenging for juveniles and their families. This comprehensive guide to juvenile defense in Texas provides an overview of key aspects of the juvenile justice system, from initial intake to potential sentencing, and offers links to additional resources for those seeking more detailed information.

Who is a “Child” for Juvenile Court in Texas?

Whether a child is subject to the jurisdiction of a juvenile court depends on their age. For juvenile law purposes, the Texas Family Code defines a “child” as a person who is:

  • 10 years or older and under 17; or
  • 17 years or older and under 18, who is alleged or found to have engaged in delinquent conduct or conduct indicating a need for supervision as a result of acts committed before turning 17. (Texas Family Code §51.02(2))

A juvenile court typically loses its jurisdiction to handle any juvenile case when a person turns 18. Although children under 10 cannot be prosecuted for committing crimes, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) may provide services for children as young as seven who are at risk of getting into trouble and for the children’s families. (Texas Family Code §264.302)

Who is a juvenile

Juvenile Offenses

Juvenile offenses can generally be categorized as delinquent conduct, Conduct Indicating a Need for Supervision, and traffic offenses.

Delinquent Conduct

Delinquent conduct refers to actions, other than traffic offenses, that violate a criminal law of Texas or the United States and are punishable by imprisonment or confinement in jail. (Texas Family Code §51.03(a)(1))

Conduct Indicating a Need for Supervision (CINS)

CINS involves actions, other than traffic offenses, which include:

  • Running away
  • Inhalant abuse
  • Expulsion from school
  • Prostitution
  • Sexting

(Texas Family Code §51.03(b))

Traffic Offenses

For juveniles, traffic offenses specifically exclude jailable offenses, such as racing on highways. (Texas Family Code §51.02(16))

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Understanding Juvenile Defense in Texas

Juvenile defense in Texas requires a deep understanding of the state’s legal framework, which differs significantly from adult criminal law. Juveniles are treated with the goal of rehabilitation rather than punishment, although serious offenses can lead to severe consequences.

Our Fort Worth Board Certified Juvenile Lawyer put together this page to help you under key aspects the juvenile justice system.

Taking a Child into Custody

Juvenile Processing Office

If a peace officer decides to take a child into custody, they may transport the child to an officially designated juvenile processing office, where the juvenile may be kept for up to six hours. (§52.025(d), F.C.)

Permitted Reasons for Detention

A child may be detained in a juvenile processing office only for:

  • Returning the child to a parent or other responsible adult
  • Completion of essential forms and records
  • Photographing and fingerprinting of the child if authorized
  • Issuance of a warning to the child as required by law
  • Taking a statement from the child (§52.025(b), F.C.)

Conditions of Detention

A juvenile processing office is a room in a police station or sheriff’s office used for the temporary detention of a child. It may not be a cell or holding facility used for other types of detentions, and a child cannot be detained for longer than six hours. (§52.025, F.C.)

Rights of the Child and Parents

A child may not be left unattended in a juvenile processing office and is entitled to be accompanied by a parent, guardian, custodian, or attorney. (§52.025(c), F.C.) The parent of a child taken into custody has the right to communicate privately with the child for reasonable periods. (§61.103(a)(1), F.C.)

Transport to Juvenile Detention Facility

If the child is not released to the parent or guardian, the law enforcement officer must transport the child to the appropriate juvenile detention facility. If the facility is outside the county, the officer who took the child into custody must transport the child to the out-of-county facility. (§52.026(a) and (b), F.C.)

juvenile detention in texas

When Can a Juvenile Be Taken Into Custody?

Texas law permits a juvenile to be taken into custody, beyond an initial detention, under the following circumstances:

  • Pursuant to an order of the juvenile court
  • Pursuant to the laws of arrest
  • By a law enforcement officer if there is probable cause to believe the child has violated a penal law, committed delinquent conduct, or violated probation
  • By a probation officer if there is probable cause to believe the child has violated probation conditions
  • Pursuant to a directive to apprehend (§52.01(a), F.C.)

A directive to apprehend is a court order authorizing law enforcement or a probation officer to take a child into custody if there is probable cause. Taking a child into custody is not considered an arrest, so a child can truthfully state they have never been arrested. (§52.01(b), F.C.)

When Can a Statement Be Taken from a Juvenile?

Juvenile Statements or Confessions

The Family Code has specific provisions for taking statements from juvenile suspects, which provide special protections. For example, a child must be taken to a juvenile processing office without unnecessary delay and without being taken to any other place first. (§52.02(a), F.C.)

Notification Requirements

A person taking a juvenile into custody must promptly notify the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian, and the office designated by the juvenile board. If the child is a ward of a guardianship, law enforcement must notify the Probate Court by the first working day after taking the child into custody. (§52.02(b), §52.011, F.C.)

Written Statements or Confessions

Before making a written confession, the child must receive a warning from a magistrate about their rights, including the right to remain silent, the right to have an attorney, and the right to terminate the interview at any time. The magistrate must ensure the child is voluntarily waiving these rights. (§51.095(a)(1)(A), (C), F.C.)

After waiving rights, the child can return to the juvenile processing office for a written confession. The confession must be signed in the presence of a magistrate, without law enforcement or prosecuting attorneys present. The magistrate must certify that the child understands and voluntarily signs the statement. (§51.095(a)(1)(B), (D), F.C.)

Recorded Statements or Confessions

If the confession is recorded, the magistrate’s warnings and the child’s waiver must be included in the recording. The magistrate may review the recording to ensure voluntariness and make written findings. (§51.095(a-5), (f), F.C.)

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First Offender Program

Eligibility and Process

A first offender program is not just for first-time offenders. A juvenile who has previously participated and was not referred to court may be referred again. The program is typically for cases involving CINS or delinquent conduct, excluding felonies or violent misdemeanors. (§52.031(a), F.C.)

Officers must make a written referral to the agency, identifying the child and the grounds for custody. The child and parent must consent to participate, and the child cannot be detained in law enforcement custody. (§52.031(e), (f), (g), F.C.)

Program Activities and Outcomes

Participation may involve restitution, community service, vocational training, education, counseling, or periodic reporting. Successful completion results in case closure without court referral. If the child fails the program, they will be referred to court. Law enforcement may keep a record of successful completion to determine future eligibility. (§52.031(j), §58.001(f), F.C.)

Criteria for Detaining a Juvenile

Detention Hearing Outcomes

After a detention hearing, a child must be released unless the judge finds that the child:

  • Is likely to abscond
  • Lacks adequate supervision
  • Lacks a parent or person to ensure court return
  • Is a danger to themselves or public safety
  • Was previously adjudicated for delinquent conduct and likely to reoffend (§54.01(e), F.C.)

Conditions of Release

Release conditions must be in writing, ensuring the child’s appearance at court proceedings. If released to an adult, the adult must ensure the child’s appearance or face contempt charges. (§53.02(d), §54.01(f), F.C.)

The juvenile court can order the child’s parent to assist in complying with release conditions, enforceable by contempt. Initial detention orders extend to the end of the case but not more than 10 working days, with the possibility of extension in certain cases. (§54.01(r), (h), F.C.)

Key Stages in the Juvenile Justice Process

  1. Juvenile Intake Process The juvenile intake process is the first step after a juvenile is taken into custody. This process determines whether the case should be handled formally or informally.
  2. Juvenile Detention Hearing A detention hearing is held to decide if a juvenile should be kept in detention or released while awaiting further court proceedings.
  3. Juvenile Adjudication Hearing Similar to a trial in adult court, an adjudication hearing determines if the juvenile committed the alleged offense.

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Common Juvenile Offenses

Juveniles can be charged with a variety of offenses, from minor infractions to serious crimes.

Juvenile Rights and Protections

Understanding a juvenile’s legal rights is essential for ensuring fair treatment within the justice system.

  • Right to a Juvenile Attorney: Juveniles have the right to legal representation. This right is crucial for navigating the legal process.
  • Interrogating a Minor: The rules governing how police can interrogate minors are designed to protect their rights, yet they may not be as comprehensive as you might expect or hope.

Juvenile Sentencing and Rehabilitation

The goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate rather than punish. Sentencing can vary based on the severity of the offense and the juvenile’s history.

  • Determinate and Indeterminate Sentences: Texas law includes both determinate and indeterminate sentences for juveniles.
  • Juvenile Deferred Prosecution: This option allows for an alternative to the formal juvenile process, offering juveniles a chance to avoid a blemish on their record.

Specialized Programs and Records

  1. Sealing Juvenile Records Sealing a juvenile record can provide a fresh start by limiting who can access the record. In many cases, we can help you seal a juvenile record.
  2. Juvenile Diversion Programs Diversion programs aim to redirect juveniles away from the justice system through rehabilitation and education. Tarrant County’s specific programs are detailed here.
  3. First Offender Program This program is designed for juveniles with no prior criminal record and focuses on preventing future offenses. Learn more about the Tarrant County First Offender Program here.

Additional Considerations

  • Conduct Indicating a Need for Supervision: Some behaviors, while not criminal, indicate that a juvenile needs supervision. More on this topic can be found here.


Juvenile defense in Texas encompasses a broad spectrum of laws, rights, and processes designed to rehabilitate young offenders while ensuring their rights are protected. If your child is going through the juvenile justice system in north Texas, give us a call at 817-203-2220. We can help.

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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