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Does my child need a juvenile attorney in Texas?

If your child has been taken into custody and is charged with an offense, he or she must be represented by a juvenile attorney. That is the law. Whether you hire the attorney – or one is appointed by the court – will depend on your ability to pay for legal representation.

In this blog post, we will discuss your child’s right to a juvenile attorney in Texas and answer some frequently asked questions by parents.

Can I represent my child in juvenile court in Texas?

No, a parent cannot represent their child in juvenile court in Texas, nor can the child represent themself. The youth must be represented by a juvenile attorney who is licensed to practice law in Texas and qualified to handle juvenile cases.

How quickly will my child need a juvenile attorney?

Within two working days after a child is taken into custody, a detention hearing will be held before a judge to determine whether the youth will be released to a parent or guardian while the case is pending or if they will be detained – that is, remain in the juvenile detention center. See Family Code (here also known as the Juvenile Justice Code) Section 54.01.

Under Section 54.01(b), the court must notify the child and his or her parents of the child’s rights to legal counsel before that first detention hearing.

Your child will ideally have an attorney before the detention hearing – so within two working days after being taken into custody.

Meet Lisa Herrick – Our Board Certified Juvenile Specialist

Lisa Herrick

Learn about Board Certified Juvenile Specialist Lisa Herrick

What if there wasn’t enough time to get an attorney before the detention hearing?

Because of the strict mandate that requires an initial detention hearing within two working days, occasionally, a juvenile will not be represented by an attorney during the detention hearing. In those instances – if the child is detained – the judge will immediately appoint counsel or order the parents to hire an attorney. Once an attorney is in place, the attorney can request another detention hearing.

If the juvenile was released by intake or didn’t have a detention hearing, the juvenile is required to be represented by an attorney within five working days after prosecutors file a petition against the youth – that is, charge the youth with an offense. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one for your child.

Under Section 51.101 of the Juvenile Justice Code, if an attorney is appointed at the initial detention hearing and the child is detained, the attorney must continue to represent the child until the case is resolved, the family retains an attorney, or a new attorney is appointed by the juvenile court judge.

What if I can’t afford a juvenile attorney?

If you can’t afford an attorney, the court will appoint one for your child prior to the initial detention hearing – or within five working days after prosecutors file a petition, or charge, the youth. To determine if you are indigent, the judge will turn to criteria established by the juvenile board of the county in which the juvenile court is located.

In Tarrant County, for example, a youth is considered indigent if:

  • The income of the person responsible for the juvenile is less than 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines;
  • The liabilities of the responsible person for the juvenile are more than his or her assets;
  • The responsible person is unable to afford a juvenile attorney qualified to represent the youth for the office which is charged;

To determine whether the juvenile is indigent, the juvenile court judge may question the parents regarding their ability to afford an attorney or rely on statements made to a probation or intake officer regarding their financial situation. In some cases, the judge will require the parents to reimburse the county for certain legal expenses.

Can I select the court-appointed juvenile attorney?

No. If the court is appointing a lawyer for your child, you cannot choose. The judge will select an attorney from a list of qualified attorneys who are eligible for appointment to represent children in juvenile proceedings.

What if I don’t like my child’s court-appointed attorney?

If you don’t like the juvenile attorney appointed to represent your child, you can hire a different juvenile attorney of your choice to replace the court-appointed juvenile attorney. You can also request that the court appoint a different juvenile attorney, but be prepared to explain to the juvenile judge why you are requesting a new juvenile attorney.

The juvenile court judge may or may not appoint a new juvenile attorney, depending on the reasons you give for requesting a different juvenile attorney and whether there is good cause to do so.

Why is it important to have an experienced juvenile attorney?

Juvenile law is a very specialized area that combines civil and criminal rules and procedures. That’s why it’s extremely important to hire an experienced lawyer who practices in juvenile court every day and understands the juvenile system.

At Varghese Summersett, we are fortunate to have attorney Lisa Herrick on our team. Lisa is Board Certified in Juvenile Law, which means she is an expert in juvenile law. In fact, she is one of only three attorneys in Tarrant County who hold this designation.

Lisa has handled hundreds of juvenile cases and is well-versed in all aspects of juvenile law, from intake through adjudication. She knows the juvenile judges, prosecutors, and probation officers in Tarrant County and is respected by all for her knowledge and expertise.

When it comes to your child’s future, you can’t afford to take chances. If your child has been accused of an offense in Tarrant County or the surrounding area, call Lisa at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation.

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

Tarrant County’s Most Common Juvenile Crimes

In 2021, juvenile offenses in Tarrant County increased slightly from the previous year, but overall the number of offenses referred by police agencies to the juvenile department has decreased over the past five years.  Tarrant County Juvenile Services reported 2,534 formal referrals in 2021.

In this post, Varghese Summersett juvenile defense attorney Lisa Herrick discusses the top five juvenile crimes in Tarrant County.

Top 5 Juvenile Crimes in Tarrant County

More than 2,500 juvenile case referrals were made to Tarrant County Juvenile Services in 2021. That’s down 27 percent from five years before. Here’s a look at the top five juvenile crimes in Tarrant County:

5. Felony Drug Offenses

Felony drug offenses have steadily increased in Tarrant County since 2017. There were 104 felony drug offenses referred to juvenile authorities by police agencies in 2021. That’s nearly double from 2017 but 103 fewer than reported in 2019.

The Texas Health and Safety Code makes the manufacture, delivery, or possession with the intent to deliver Penalty Group 1 controlled substances such as cocaine, opiates, opioids, heroin, or methamphetamine felony drug offenses. It also includes drugs classified as Penalty Group 2, such as THC oil, wax, dabs, ecstasy, and Adderall. Penalty Group 3 contains depressants and stimulants. Penalty Group 4 contains prescription medications that are subject to abuse.

“Nine times out of 10, these cases are related to a vape pen containing THC,” Lisa said.

4. Sexual Assault

Referrals nearly doubled to 124 in 2021, which is most likely because most schools were closed for much of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without schools, many victims were likely left without a person or counselor to report allegations of sexual assault.

Texas Penal Code Section 22.011 defines sexual assault as a person who:

  • Intentionally or knowingly causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent; or
  • Causes the penetration of the mouth of another person by the sexual organ of the actor without that person’s consent; or
  • Causes the sexual organ of another person, without that person’s consent, to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus or sexual organ of another person, including the actor.

There are also a number of offenses that could be filed as sexual abuse of a child, although there are affirmative defenses to certain offenses based on the Romeo-Juliet statute in Texas.

 “That highlights how important it is for kids to go to school and have adults they trust to report abuse to,” Lisa said.

3. Misdemeanor Theft

Although misdemeanor thefts have been declining since 2017, it’s still one of the most common offenses among minors. Misdemeanor theft, in most cases, includes theft of anything less than $2,500. This offense differs from robbery, which involves taking, or attempting to take, something from someone’s possession.

Texas Penal Code defines misdemeanor theft as the unlawful appropriation of property with the intent to deprive the owner.

“These are non-violent actions that didn’t involve harm or a threat to another person,” Lisa said. “For example, shoplifting clothes or electronics.”

2. Aggravated Assault

This offense has stayed steady in Tarrant County over the past five years, even while juvenile murder charges have skyrocketed. These assaults often include the use of a gun. Aggravated assault can be elevated to a murder charge if the victim eventually dies from the injuries. 

Aggravated assault includes causing serious bodily injury. Serious bodily injury means the loss of the use of a body part or permanent disfigurement. You could be charged for this offense if you cause another person injury while using what could be considered a deadly weapon. In this situation, a deadly weapon could be a person’s fist, a knife, a handgun, or a bat. A threat made to a person while holding a deadly weapon could also be considered aggravated assault under Texas law.

“Interestingly, while the rate of murder referrals has increased more than threefold in the last five years, the average number of aggravated assaults has stayed consistent,” Lisa said.

1. Misdemeanor Assault

Misdemeanor assault was the most common juvenile offense in 2021, with 638 referrals to Tarrant County Juvenile Services.

Varghese Summersett’s juvenile attorney Lisa Herrick was not surprised.

Misdemeanor assault has been the most common juvenile case in Tarrant County for years.

The two most common misdemeanor assault charges are assault by contact and assault causing bodily injury. In assault by contact charges, someone only needs to allege that you offensively touched them. Assault causing bodily injury includes the other person alleging they feel pain. The person isn’t required to show any visible evidence of injury.

“Typically, these cases include fights between students at school or between members of the same household. Somebody might have a black eye or a bloody nose, but hospital visits aren’t terribly common,” Herrick said.  

Juvenile Murder Cases Rise in Tarrant County

Murder offenses for Tarrant County juveniles increased by more than 100 percent to 18 in 2021 from five in 2017.

When are Juvenile Cases Referred to the Tarrant County Juvenile System?

A formal referral is when face-to-face contact occurs between the juvenile and the probation department.

Juveniles in Tarrant County are referred to Tarrant County Juvenile Services for alleged delinquent behavior, including both misdemeanor and felony offenses. Another violation that can instigate a referral includes a probation violation.

Juveniles can be referred by a law enforcement agency or probation department.

Two Ways Tarrant County Juvenile Cases are Received by Juvenile Services: 

Formal referrals to Tarrant County Juvenile Services can be received in two ways:

Out-of-custody referrals: The referring agency notifies the Tarrant County Juvenile Services of the offense, and a letter is sent to the juvenile’s residence requesting they appear for intake and processing. When the juvenile appears for intake, the referral becomes formal.

In-custody referrals: The juvenile is physically brought to the Lynn W. Ross Detention Center by a law enforcement agency for processing and temporary detainment.

The Age Breakdown of Tarrant County Juvenile Cases

In 2021, Tarrant County reported 2,534 juvenile referrals, including 73.3% male.

Here’s a look at how the incidents broke down by age:

Rate Age
33% 16
23% 15
18% 14
10% 13
7% 17+
6% 12
2% 11
1% 10

 

Need a Juvenile Attorney? Call Lisa Herrick at Varghese Summersett.

If your child has been detained by Tarrant County Juvenile Services, you need an experienced juvenile defense attorney on their side. Attorney Lisa Herrick is one of only three Board Certified attorneys in Juvenile Law in Tarrant County. She is a specialist in handling the complexities of juvenile and young adult crimes. For a free consultation, call her at 817-203-2220.

Varghese Summersett

What is federal obstruction of justice?

In its most basic definition, obstruction of justice occurs when someone prevents a part of the legal system from proceeding by interfering with government investigations or processes or the people involved, such as investigators, prosecutors, judges, jurors, victims, or witnesses. Federal obstruction of justice covers many potential offenses and is often described as a crime against the justice system itself.

Misleading or lying to investigators is a typical example of federal obstruction of justice. Bribing a government official, destroying evidence, or giving a false alibi to protect a friend or family member are also classic examples of obstruction of justice.

Federal Obstruction Of Justice

Obstruction of justice has been a hot topic in the news for years, with a government official or celebrity being accused seemingly every other month.

This federal offense can be complicated to understand because obstruction of justice covers a wide range of different actions. It’s also a charge that often stems from an investigation for a separate, original crime.

federal obstruction of justice

Remember Martha Stewart going to prison? It was for obstruction of justice – not her original crime – which was insider trading and securities fraud. She served 10 months in prison for lying to investigators, not for financial crimes.

The complexity of this offense illustrates why it’s imperative to hire an experienced federal criminal defense attorney if you or a loved one has been contacted by investigators, whether they’re investigating you or someone you know. 

In this article, we’ll explain what obstruction of justice means, the potential punishment for a conviction, and give examples of real federal obstruction accusations.

What constitutes federal obstruction of justice?

There are 21 specific types of obstruction of justice listed in Title 18, Chapter 73 of the U.S. Code, including:

  • Assault on a process server (1501)
  • Resistance to an extradition agent (1502)
  • Influencing or injuring an officer or juror (1503)
  • Influencing a juror by writing (1504)
  • Obstruction of proceedings before department, agencies and committees (1505)
  • Theft or alteration of record or process (1506)
  • Picketing or parading (1507)
  • Recording, listening to or observing proceeding or grand juries while deliberating or voting (1508)
  • Obstruction of court orders (1509)
  • Obstruction of criminal investigations (1510)
  • Obstruction of state or local law enforcement (1511)
  • Tampering with a witness, victim, or informant (1512)
  • Retaliating against a witness, victim or informant (1513)
  • Civil action to restrain harassment of a victim or witness (1514)
  • Civil action to protect against retaliation in fraud cases (1514A)
  • Definitions for certain provisions (1515)
  • Obstruction of a federal audit (1516)
  • Obstructing examination of a financial institution (1517)
  • Obstruction of criminal investigations of health care crimes (1518)
  • Destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations and bankruptcy (1519)
  • Destruction of corporate audit records (1520)
  • Retaliating against a federal judge or law enforcement by false claim or slander (1521)

What is the punishment for obstruction?

Because the types of obstruction of justice vary, so does the range in punishment. A federal conviction for obstruction of justice is generally punishable by steep fines and up to five years in federal prison, but there are other punishments on both ends of the range. 

For example, under  18 U.S. Code 1512, a person who attempts to kill someone to keep them from testifying in court faces up to 30 years in federal prison. Likewise, a group that pickets outside a courthouse in an attempt to disrupt a trial is punishable by a fine and not more than a year in federal prison, under 18 U.S. Code 1507.

 To determine the potential punishment range, it’s important to contact an experienced federal attorney.

Can obstruction of justice be prosecuted by state prosecutors?

Yes, Texas has its own version of obstruction of justice, which is called “obstruction or retaliation.”  However, it focuses more on the acts that interfere with local law enforcement. Obstruction or retaliation is generally a third-degree felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Learn more about obstruction and retaliation in Texas. 

What are some real examples of federal obstruction of justice charges?

Over the decades, federal authorities have used obstruction of justice charges to try bring down politicians, public officials, and celebrities. Here’s a look at a few famous defendants who have been charged with this federal offense and why:

  • Richard Nixon, accsued of covering up the Watergate scandal.
  • Bill Clinton, accused of lying under oath to the grand jury about sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky
  • Martha Stewart, accused of hiding evidence from authorities during her insider-trading investigation
  • Barry Bonds, accused of lying to a grand jury about whether his trainer had given him steroids
  • R. Kelly, accused of conspiring to ensure key witnesses would lie about his alleged sexual abuse of girls and refuse to testify.

What should I do if I’ve been accused of federal obstruction of justice?

The federal system is much different than the state system. As a result, it’s imperative to hire a seasoned federal defense attorney who has expensive experience defending federal charges. The government can often overreach with these charges, so it’s important to have someone in your corner who understands each stage of a federal criminal case and how to respond appropriately on your behalf. This is not the time to cut corners or leave anything to chance. 

Charged with federal obstruction of justice? Contact Us.

Obstruction of justice can be an extremely serious federal charge. If you have been accused of federal obstruction of justice, it’s imperative to contact there an experienced federal defense attorney as soon as possible. Our team has extensive knowledge and experience defending federal crimes. Call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation with a federal lawyer in North Texas.

Varghese Summersett

When Can Police Interrogate a Minor?

Have you ever wondered when the police or even CPS can interrogate a minor in Texas? Let’s face it. Kids don’t always make the best choices and, sometimes, they get caught up in bad situations. Maybe they witnessed a crime or are suspected of committing one themselves. So what happens when police want to talk to a minor regarding a crime or criminal investigation? In this blog post, we are going to discuss juvenile rights and what happens (or should happen) when police question a child or take them into custody.

What is a juvenile in Texas?

First, let’s start with the basics. In Texas, a juvenile is defined as a person who is at least 10 years old but not yet 17. Youth between these ages are handled by the juvenile justice system, and there are very specific rules and rights when it comes to interrogations and arrests.

juvenile in Texas

Can police interrogate a minor without parental consent in Texas?

Most people believe police can’t question a child without the consent of his or her parents. This is a misconception. In Texas, police officers are allowed to question a child without parental consent or prior permission as long as the questioning is done in a non-custodial setting. In other words, as long as the child is not in handcuffs, detained, or in custody, police can approach them and question them without parental knowledge.

So, for example, if a police officer shows up outside the youth’s school and wants to talk – and the child willingly answers the officer’s questions – the parents may not even find out about it if their child doesn’t tell them. That’s a scary thought for most parents.

In fact, most conversations with the police take place at school with absolutely no notice to the parents. 

It’s also important to note that, in this type of setting, police also do not have to give the juvenile their Miranda warnings.

Can CPS question a child without parental consent in Texas?

Employees of the Department of Family and Protective Services – often referred to as “CPS” are routinely given access to students – and yes, they do question or interrogate students without a parent’s knowledge.

child interrogationCan my child refuse to answer the officer’s questions?

Yes – and they should. If a youth is approached by a police officer who wants to talk, the child should tell the officer that they want a parent or a lawyer (or both) and then remain silent. At that point, the officer must stop asking questions and allow the child to contact a parent or guardian.

Unfortunately, most children don’t know their rights or are too scared to assert them. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important for parents to educate their kids on what to do if they’re ever approached by police.

What specifically should my child say to stop questioning?

It’s important for your child to be polite and respectful at all times. However, a child should also be firm when asserting their rights. For example, your child can say something like:

  • “I don’t want to talk to you without my parents or a lawyer.”
  • “I want a lawyer.”
  • “I am not going to talk to you.”

Can parents refuse to allow police to speak to their child?

Let’s say a police officer calls you and asks to speak to your child. You can politely decline and assert your child’s right to an attorney. Realistically you can’t prevent them from showing up at school. What you can do is hire an attorney for your child – generally one who is not representing you – and have the attorney make contact with the police department or CPS and say the child is represented and any questions must come through the attorney.

What happens when a child is taken into custody?

When a child is taken into custody, the rules change. In this situation, police are required to “promptly give notice” to the juvenile’s parent or guardian and to tell them why the child has been taken into custody.

The child must be taken to a juvenile processing office – often a room in a police station or sheriff’s office specifically used for temporary juvenile detention. Once here, a parent, guardian, or attorney is allowed, by law, to speak privately with the juvenile for a reasonable period of time. During this interaction, they can advise the child not to voluntarily speak with the officer.

Can a parent be in the room during in-custody police interrogations?

The law does not require a parent, guardian, or attorney to be present when police question a child who is in custody. However, if a parent asks to be present, it is in the best interest of the officer to allow it – or expect an aggressive courtroom challenge.

Police Want to Question Your Child? Contact Us.

If the police want to question your child about a criminal matter in Fort Worth or the surrounding area, it’s imperative to contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney right away. It is never a good idea to speak to the police without first consulting with an adept juvenile attorney – regardless of the child’s involvement in the situation.

Juvenile law is a highly-specialized area that requires very specific knowledge and expertise. Varghese Summersett is one of the few law firms in North Texas with a Board Certified Juvenile lawyer on its team. Attorney Lisa Herrick has vast experience handling juvenile cases and will protect your child’s rights every step of the way. Call 817-203-2220 today for a free consultation.

Varghese Summersett

When Can Police Interrogate a Minor?

Have you ever wondered when the police or even CPS can interrogate a minor in Texas? Let’s face it. Kids don’t always make the best choices and, sometimes, they get caught up in bad situations. Maybe they witnessed a crime or are suspected of committing one themselves. So what happens when police want to talk to a minor regarding a crime or criminal investigation? In this blog post, we are going to discuss juvenile rights and what happens (or should happen) when police question a child or take them into custody.

What is a juvenile in Texas?

First, let’s start with the basics. In Texas, a juvenile is defined as a person who is at least 10 years old but not yet 17. Youth between these ages are handled by the juvenile justice system, and there are very specific rules and rights when it comes to interrogations and arrests.

juvenile in Texas

Can police interrogate a minor without parental consent in Texas?

Most people believe police can’t question a child without the consent of his or her parents. This is a misconception. In Texas, police officers are allowed to question a child without parental consent or prior permission as long as the questioning is done in a non-custodial setting. In other words, as long as the child is not in handcuffs, detained, or in custody, police can approach them and question them without parental knowledge.

So, for example, if a police officer shows up outside the youth’s school and wants to talk – and the child willingly answers the officer’s questions – the parents may not even find out about it if their child doesn’t tell them. That’s a scary thought for most parents.

In fact, most conversations with the police take place at school with absolutely no notice to the parents. 

It’s also important to note that, in this type of setting, police also do not have to give the juvenile their Miranda warnings.

Can CPS question a child without parental consent in Texas?

Employees of the Department of Family and Protective Services – often referred to as “CPS” – are routinely given access to students. And yes, they can and will question or interrogate students without a parent’s knowledge.

child interrogationCan my child refuse to answer the officer’s questions?

Yes – and they should. If a youth is approached by a police officer who wants to talk, the child should tell the officer that they want a parent or a lawyer (or both) and then remain silent. At that point, the officer must stop asking questions and allow the child to contact a parent or guardian.

Unfortunately, most children don’t know their rights or are too scared to assert them. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important for parents to educate their kids on what to do if they’re ever approached by police.

What specifically should my child say to stop questioning?

It’s important for your child to be polite and respectful at all times. However, a child should also be firm when asserting their rights. For example, your child can say something like:

  • “I don’t want to talk to you without my parents or a lawyer.”
  • “I want a lawyer.”
  • “I am not going to talk to you.”

Can parents refuse to allow police to speak to their child?

Let’s say a police officer calls you and asks to speak to your child. You can politely decline and assert your child’s right to an attorney. Realistically you can’t prevent them from showing up at school. What you can do is hire an attorney for your child – generally one who is not representing you – and have the attorney make contact with the police department or CPS and say the child is represented and any questions must come through the attorney.

What happens when a child is taken into custody?

When a child is taken into custody, the rules change. In this situation, police are required to “promptly give notice” to the juvenile’s parent or guardian and to tell them why the child has been taken into custody.

The child must be taken to a juvenile processing office – often a room in a police station or sheriff’s office specifically used for temporary juvenile detention. Once here, a parent, guardian, or attorney is allowed, by law, to speak privately with the juvenile for a reasonable period of time. During this interaction, they can advise the child not to voluntarily speak with the officer.

Can a parent be in the room during in-custody police interrogations?

The law does not require a parent, guardian, or attorney to be present when police interrogate a minor in custody. However, if a parent asks to be present, it is in the best interest of the officer to allow it – or expect an aggressive courtroom challenge.

Police Want to Question Your Child? Contact Us.

If the police want to question your child about a criminal matter in Fort Worth or the surrounding area, it’s imperative to contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney right away. It is never a good idea to speak to the police without first consulting with an adept juvenile attorney – regardless of the child’s involvement in the situation.

Juvenile law is a highly-specialized area that requires very specific knowledge and expertise. Varghese Summersett is one of the few law firms in North Texas with a Board Certified Juvenile lawyer on its team. Attorney Lisa Herrick has vast experience handling juvenile cases and will protect your child’s rights every step of the way. Call 817-203-2220 today for a free consultation.

Varghese Summersett

It is not uncommon for a CPS investigation to occur at the same time a criminal investigation is taking place in Texas. This is especially true in cases involving allegations of child physical or sexual abuse or neglect.

In Texas, CPS is required, by law, to refer all reports of child abuse or neglect to the local police agency, which will then decide whether or not to also initiate a criminal investigation. Likewise, police are required to accompany CPS investigators responding to emergency reports of child abuse or neglect. So, police and CPS often work together.

While the criminal defense attorneys at Varghese Summersett are not dedicated CPS attorneys, we routinely advise clients on how to handle CPS inquiries from a criminal perspective. (And only a criminal perspective, so if you’re looking for an attorney to defend you when you don’t have a criminal investigation or case pending, look for a “CPS attorney” specifically.)

In this article, we will explain what happens during a potential CPS criminal investigation, answer some frequently asked questions, and explain your rights.

If you or a loved one is contacted by CPS and believe you are facing criminal charges, it is imperative to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.

What is CPS?

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is the state agency tasked with protecting some of the state’s most vulnerable residents, including children, the elderly, and disabled individuals. Under the DFPS umbrella is Child Protective Services (CPS), which investigates all reports of child physical and sexual abuse and neglect by parents, guardians, or other family or household members.

CPS investigators are not law enforcement officers, but they have the authority to interview families, children, witnesses, and the alleged perpetrator, as well as to access medical and school records. They can also request random drug screens and conduct home visits.

After completing their investigation, CPS will conduct a risk assessment and make a finding, or ruling, to determine whether there is enough evidence to substantiate the claim of abuse or neglect. If so, CPS will take action to protect the child, which may include:

  • offering services to address the problem – i.e. parenting classes, food banks, etc.;
  • implementing a safety plan that will allow the child to continue to live in the home as long as conditions are met and followed; or
  • taking court action to remove the child from the home.

What specific findings can CPS make?

At the conclusion of a CPS investigation, the caseworker must issue a finding. Here are the possible outcomes:

  1. Reason to Believe: If a CPS investigator makes a “reason to believe” finding, he or she determined that the abuse or neglect occurred. If this finding is made, there is a strong possibility that law enforcement will also be involved.
  2. Ruled Out: If a CPS investigator makes a “ruled out” finding, he or she does not believe that abuse or neglect occurred.
  3. Unable to Complete: “Unable to complete” is when a report or referral is made to CPS, but the agency couldn’t complete the investigation. This usually occurs when CPS can’t locate the family or the family was uncooperative.
  4. Unable to Determine: This finding means CPS cannot make a decision. This is rare.
  5. Administrative Closure: This finding means CPS closed the case for some reason other than those outlined above.

What happens if CPS thinks a crime has been committed?

If CPS believes a crime has been committed, they will immediately notify law enforcement, which will launch an independent investigation. This criminal investigation will then run concurrently with the CPS investigation. Depending on the severity of the allegations, this could result in an arrest and charges being filed against the alleged abuser.

If you are facing a CPS criminal investigation, it is important to have an experienced attorney advise you of your rights and help you navigate the complex legal system.

What is the difference between a CPS investigation and a criminal investigation?

While CPS and law enforcement share the common goal of protecting children, their investigations are quite different. A CPS investigation determines whether a child is safe in his or her home or if the child should be removed. A criminal investigation determines whether a crime has occurred and if someone should be criminally prosecuted.

A CPS investigation is conducted by an investigator or caseworker with Child Protective Services. It’s important to understand that CPS is driven by a “preponderance of evidence” standard. This is a lower standard than what law enforcement must meet. All that is required is that, when all the evidence is weighed, it is more likely than not abuse or neglect occurred.

As a result, almost every CPS investigation that is running concurrent to a criminal investigation results in a “reason to believe” finding. Again, this means CPS believes it is more likely than not that abuse occurred. From CPS perspective, the case agent would almost always rather find a “reason to believe” than risk sending a child back into a situation where they could be harmed.

A criminal investigation, on the other hand, is conducted by law enforcement to determine whether there is enough evidence to arrest and charge an individual with a crime. In order for charges to be filed, law enforcement must have probable cause to believe a crime was committed. This is a much higher standard than a “preponderance of evidence.”

As a result, there are many CPS investigations where neglect is found by CPS and the family is offered services to address the problem or a child is removed from a home, but no charges are filed. In order for charges to be filed, law enforcement must believe they can prove a crime occurred beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a very high standard, and one that can be difficult to meet.

What is an administrative review of a CPS investigation?

At the conclusion of a CPS investigation, the target of inquiry will receive a decision letter from CPS. If the agency made a “reason to believe” finding, the alleged perpetrator has the right, under Section 261.309 of the Texas Family Code, to request an Administrative Review of Investigation Findings (ARIF).

The ARIF gives the alleged perpetrator the opportunity to challenge CPS findings. This is an informal process; it does not involve a trial or include any testimony. However, the requestor is required to say why they are disputing the matter – statements that are often used by detectives and law enforcement in a criminal investigation.

These reviews are not evidentiary – in other words, it’s not someone looking to see if the case is solid or not. It is just an internal review to see if the investigator followed the normal procedure and checked all the standard boxes.

Additionally, if the alleged perpetrator has a concurrent criminal case, the prosecutor has the ability to halt the review until the case is over. Likewise, CPS can postpone the review on its own based on the fact that there is an ongoing criminal investigation.

What are my rights if I am the subject of a CPS criminal investigation?

If you or a loved one is the subject of a CPS criminal investigation, it’s important to understand your rights. Here’s an overview:

  • Because a CPS investigation can lead to criminal charges, you have the right to have a lawyer to intervene on your behalf and be present during home visits and legal proceedings;
  • You have the right to remain silent. You can invoke your fifth amendment right to remain silent during a CPS and/or criminal investigation;
  • You can refuse to allow CPS or police in your house – unless they have a warrant or the investigator believes a child is in imminent danger.

Subject of a criminal investigation? Contact us.

If you or a loved one is the subject of a criminal investigation in Fort Worth or the surrounding area, contact us today to speak with an experienced attorney. We can help you navigate the process and ensure your rights are protected every step of the way. Having an attorney can make all the difference in the outcome of your case. Call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation.

Varghese Summersett

Federal Sentencing Hearings

A federal sentencing date is, undoubtedly, a day no one looks forward to. This is the day when a judge announces a defendant’s prison sentence and how long he or she will be on supervised release after serving time. The judge will also order any fines or mandatory financial assessments at this time, as well as announce any assets that are being forfeited.

It is a difficult day, to be sure.

In this blog post, we will explain what happens at federal sentencing so that you and your loved ones know what to expect and can be prepared. It’s important to understand the process – even though this knowledge likely won’t soften the blow of what are typically very high federal sentences.

Please take a moment to watch this comprehensive video on the federal sentencing process by Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney Benson Varghese:

What occurs prior to federal sentencing?

By the time federal sentencing occurs, a number of things will have occurred to help the judge arrive at a decision. After a plea or finding of guilt, a probation officer would have met with the defendant and interviewed them. A good attorney will be present at that interview; a great attorney will have spent time preparing the defendant for how to best answer the probation officer’s questions.

The probation officer then prepares a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSR), which is submitted to the judge upon completion. This report draws from the defendant’s answers, as well as answers from the prosecutor, the agent working the case, other defendants or witnesses, and a summary of a variety of case documents and records. In the PSR, the probation officer gives the judge a “recommended guideline range” for sentencing. This range is based upon the offense conduct, enhancements and reductions, and criminal history.

While this guideline range is not mandatory, many judges are “guideline judges.” In other words, they routine sentence within the recommended guidelines, particularly if they “grew up” as judges when the guidelines were mandatory.

Does the defense get a say in the Pre-Sentence Investigation Report?

Once the PSR is complete, the defendant’s defense attorney will be able to read it and make written objections. These are typically not factual objections, but rather, objections based on how the law was applied to the facts.

For example, it is not uncommon for an experienced federal defense attorney to argue that a specific enhancement added by the probation officer in the PSR is being incorrectly applied. However, it is generally not an argument to take issue with the statement of a witness, who is embellishing or being untruthful in the PSR. Why? The judge is allowed to consider uncorroborated, hearsay statements of co-conspirators. Relevant conduct doesn’t have to be proven by proof beyond a reasonable doubt – just a preponderance of evidence, which is just a tipping of the scales.

The defense attorney also has the opportunity to file other documents, including a downward variance (a sentence below the recommended guideline range); a departure (a guideline policy that calls for a lower sentence); a sentencing memorandum; and character letters on behalf of the defendant.

Our experienced federal defense attorneys use these motions, memorandums and letters to give the judge every reason possible to sentence below the recommended guidelines. We understand that judges tend to stay within the guidelines, so some of our arguments are about a departure, while others are about a variance.

What is a sentencing memorandum?

Federal sentencing memorandums, also called sentencing memos, are written by the defendant’s criminal defense attorney in an effort to present a complete picture of the defendant in an effort to persuade the judge to consider lighter punishment. Sentencing memos, which are kept under the court’s seal, are often very compelling, detailing the defendant’s hardships and tough times, as well as good deeds and positive attributes. The sentencing memo will contain a description of the nature and circumstances of the offense – but unlike the PSR, it is framed in the light most favorable to the accused.

The memorandum will go into the biographical background of the defendant, explaining hardships and factors that may have led to poor decisions. This could include health problems, substance abuse, mental health issues, and dysfunctional family dynamics. The memorandum will also highlight all of the defendant’s good and redeeming qualities.

Although the sentencing guidelines limit much of what the judge may consider, the experienced federal attorneys our Varghese Summersett make every effort to give the judge any  information we think will be helpful, including but not limited to:

  • highlighting changes in the defendant’s behavior and mindset;
  • discussing the defendant’s future goals;
  • underscoring the defendant’s redeeming qualities;
  • pointing out how this sentencing compares with other defendants’ or co-conspirators’ sentence;
  • discussing lack of danger to society;
  • making specific requests about where the defendant should be housed – and why.

The main goal of the sentencing memorandum is to persuade the judge that the lowest sentence possible is appropriate.

Before sentencing, the judge will have reviewed the PSR, the filings from both sides, as well as all the character letters.

What happens at federal sentencing?

At sentencing, the federal district judge will call the case and the parties will be identified. Specifically, the judge will read the case number and the prosecutor and defense attorney will be named for the record. The defendant will also be identified.

Afterward, the judge will go over the procedural history of the case, reciting the order of events, including the defendant was charged, when they pled, etc, The judge will then ask if both sides if they received the pre-sentence investigation report in a timely manner. The judge will then address any objections made to the pre- sentence report. There is generally no new evidence provided at this time. Again, this because the arguments are generally about the application of the law, not the facts. After the objections are addressed, the judge will announce the recommended guideline range as amended by any objections.

After this, the judge will acknowledge the receipt of filings by the prosecution and defense and will allow both sides to make any final, closing remarks. Experienced attorneys know what type of arguments resonate the most with a particular judge, but in general, federal court is much more subdued than what you see on television. This is because the judge’s decision is almost entirely based on written submissions. The judge will hear any arguments made, but the oral presentation is generally just to highlight what the judge already knows.

Finally, the judge will allow the defendant to speak. Our advice to clients is to speak sincerely, show remorse, express empathy for victims, have a plan for the future – and most importantly, accept responsibility.

After hearing all the arguments and presentations, the judge will pronounce the sentence. This will be the number of months the defendant is in custody, the number of years they will be on supervised release, and any fines or fees that are being imposed. The sentence is never an easy number to hear.

It’s important to understand that the number you hear at federal sentencing is really the worst-case scenario. In reality, the sentence will be less than that because most federal inmates earn seven days of credit for every five days they are in federal custody. That is up to 54 days of good time credit for every year of their imposed sentence.  Of course, good time credit, of course, is not guaranteed and depends on a person being “good” while in custody.

How long does federal sentencing take?

The federal sentencing process itself is not lengthy. However, there may be a number of cases set on your sentencing date, so it is hard to predict how long you or your loved ones may wait in court. Even the most efficient judges routinely deviate from the scheduled order of events.

Can I get time off my sentence through the First Step Act?

The First Step Act is an initiative that is still fairly new, but it gives inmates credit for working at a job or an approved class. For every 30 days of classes or work that you do in prison, you can earn up to 15 days of credit. However, be aware that this is a new program – not every facility has every class and the Bureau of Prisons is still behind on implementing systems to document the credit prisoners receive.

Generally speaking, to earn credits in prison, you cannot have disciplinary infractions. For First Step Act credits, the prisoner must come back as a minimum or low risk on the BOP Risk Assessment tool; must be in the country legally; and must not have committed a disqualifying offense. You also must be eligible for pre-release custody, such as halfway house or home confinement. Examples of programs that can results in credits through the First Step Act include:

  • Anger management
  • Apprenticeship training
  • Assert Yourself for female offenders
  • Basic cognitive skills
  • Brave
  • Bureau literacy program
  • Certification course training
  • Challenge program
  • Cognitive processing therapy
  • Criminal thinking
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Emotional self-regulation
  • Federal prison industries
  • Female integrated treatment
  • Foundation
  • Illness management & recovery
  • Life connections program
  • Mental health step down program
  • Money smart for adults
  • National parenting from prison program
  • Non-residential drug abuse program
  • Post-secondary education
  • Residential drug abuse program (RDAP)
  • Resolve program
  • Seeking safety
  • Sex offender treatment program non-residential
  • Sex offender treatment program
  • Skills program
  • Social skills training
  • Stages program
  • Threshold program
  • Vocational training

Finally, it is reasonable to expect we will see future changes to the First Step Act. It comes as a surprise to some that the First Step Act was signed into law by President Trump. It is fair to say that as time goes on, there are more and more bipartisan efforts to reel in the unfair federal sentences that are handed down.

If you had been sentenced before 2018, you probably would have never imagined that something like the First Step Act would be passed. As you consider your sentence, keep in mind that future changes could be made that can decrease you or your loved one’s sentence.

One of the most important things a loved one can do during this trying time is to be supportive and a source of encouragement and hope. The winds of change – for the better – are slowly making their way through the federal system. Do not let the pronouncement of the sentence discourage you. This is a journey and you will get to the other side of it.

Questions about Federal Sentencing? Drop a Comment Below.

Varghese Summersett

In Texas, shining a laser pointer at someone is often seen as a prank or harmless fun. However, this behavior can be criminal if it is directed at an aircraft or at a uniformed safety officer, including a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical worker.

In this article, we will explain the illegal use of laser pointers in Texas, including the law and potential consequences – and why authorities take this behavior so seriously.

What constitutes the illegal use of laser pointers in Texas?

In Texas, there are two state laws that govern the illegal use of laser pointers. One pertains to aircraft and the other pertains to uniformed safety officers. We’ll break down each below.

  • Illegal Use of Laser Pointers at Safety Officers

Under Section 42.13 of the Texas Penal Code – titled “Use of Laser Pointers” – it is a crime to knowingly direct a light from a laser pointer at a uniformed safety officer, including a peace officer, security guard, firefighter, emergency medical service worker or other uniformed municipal, state or federal officer.

  • Illegal illumination of Aircraft By Intense Light

Under Section 42.14 of the Texas Penal Code – titled “Illumination of Aircraft by Intense light” – it is a crime to intentionally direct the light from a laser pointer or other light source at an aircraft if light is intense enough to impair the pilot’s ability to control the aircraft.

It’s important to point out that it is not a crime, however, if the light was used to send an emergency distress signal.

What is the punishment for shining laser pointers at airplanes or safety workers?

Safety Officer: In most cases, shining a laser pointer at a uniformed safety officer is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $500 fine.

Class C Misdemeanor

However, if the conduct causes bodily injury to the officer, it is a third-degree felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. If the conduct causes serious bodily injury, it is a first-degree felony punishable by 5 to 99 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.

Aircraft: In most cases, shining a laser pointer at an aircraft is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $500 fine. However, if the laser pointer makes it difficult for the pilot to control the aircraft, the charge can be elevated to a Class A misdemeanor which is punishable by up to a year in the county jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.

Class A misdemeanor

Class A Misdemeanors in Texas

Can you be prosecuted federally for aiming lasers at aircraft?

Yes, shining a laser pointer at an aircraft can also be prosecuted federally – and the punishment is more severe in the federal system. Under U.S.C Title 18, Chapter 2, aiming a laser beam at or in the flight path of an aircraft is punishable by up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Why are there laws making laser pointers a crime?

The short answer is that authorities take the illegal use of laser pointers very seriously because of the potential danger it poses to people and property.

Laser pointers are powerful tools that emit a concentrated beam of light. When directed at an aircraft, this light can cause the pilot to become disoriented or even temporarily blinded, which could lead to a crash. In addition, shining a laser pointer at a uniformed safety officer can cause distraction or even temporary blindness, which could jeopardize the officer’s safety – and the safety of those around them.

For these reasons, state and federal authorities have made it illegal to direct laser pointers at aircraft or uniformed safety officers.

Arrested for the illegal use of laser pointers in North Texas?

If you or a loved one has been arrested for the illegal use of laser pointers in Fort Worth or the surrounding area, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Our team is made up of Board Certified Criminal Attorneys and former prosecutors who have a proven record of success defending clients against all types of criminal charges. We will work tirelessly to ensure that you receive the best possible outcome in your case. Contact us today at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation.

Varghese Summersett

It’s a hot summer day and you are out running errands with your toddler. You park in a convenience store parking lot and notice that your baby is asleep in the car seat. You decide to quickly run into the store, leaving your child in the car unattended. Can you be arrested for leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas?

In Texas, it is a crime – a misdemeanor – to leave a young child in a vehicle for more than five minutes unattended. If the child is injured or dies as a result of being left in the car – tragedies we sometimes see in the brutal summer heat – you could be charged with a serious felony.

In this article, we are going to discuss the law and the potential consequences of leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas. We will also give some real examples of when this has happened and why police and prosecutors take this offense so seriously.

If you or a loved one has been accused of leaving a child in a vehicle, it is extremely important to contact an experienced defense attorney immediately. Not only could you be facing criminal charges, but Child Protective Service (CPS) could also get involved. Our team has handled dozens of cases involving crimes against children – first as highly-skilled prosecutors and now as highly-coveted defense attorneys. We can help.

What does Texas law say about leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas?

Under Texas Penal Code 22.10, a person commits an offense if he or she intentionally or knowingly leaves a child in a motor vehicle for longer than five minutes, knowing that the child is:

  • younger than seven years of age; and
  • not attended by an individual in the vehicle who is 14 years of age or older.

As you can see, briefly leaving a child in a vehicle is not always illegal. Still, it is always better to err on the side of caution. If you are leaving a child in the car, even for just a minute, make sure that the child is supervised by someone 14 years of age or older.

What is the punishment for leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas?

In Texas, it is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $500 fine for leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas. This offense is classified as neglectful supervision, which means CPS will also likely get notified and may launch their own investigation. If evidence of child abuse or neglect is found, the child could be removed from your home.

As we mentioned earlier, if the child suffers bodily injury or dies as a result of being left in the car, you could be facing much more serious charges – including a felony charge of endangering a child. We will discuss that next.

When is it a felony to leave a child in a vehicle in Texas?

There are several scenarios that could result in a felony charge of endangering a child, stemming from leaving a child in a vehicle unattended. In Texas, child endangerment occurs when someone puts a child under the age of 15 at risk of injury, disablement or death.

We often see this charge when people leave their children locked in hot vehicles and the child suffers from a heat-related illness or death. We also sometimes see this charge when a car is stolen with a child inside.

It’s important to note that the child does not have to be your own to be accused of child endangerment. The act also doesn’t have to be intentional. For example, you could be charged with child endangerment if you accidentally left your child in a hot vehicle and the child became ill or died.

What is the punishment for child endangerment?

Child endangerment is generally a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and maximum $10,000 fine.  It’s important to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to find out exactly what punishment you could be facing if you have been accused of leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas.

What are some real examples of people being arrested after leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas?

  • In July 2022, a Houston woman was charged with endangering a child after leaving a 2-year-old child and puppy in a vehicle with the temperature in the triple digits.
  • In May 2022, a mother was arrested in the Spring area after she allegedly left her 3-year-old child in a running car alone while she shopped at a Target store.
  • In March 2022, an Odessa couple was arrested after leaving their three young children in a running vehicle while they went inside a restaurant to eat.
  • In May 2018, two parents were arrested after they left their children, ages 1 and 3, unattended in a hot car in Burleson with the windows slightly opened. The couple left the children in the car with their 14-year-old uncle, who later left the vehicle to get a drink. A bystander saw the children sweating heavily and called Burleson police.

Will I be arrested if I break into a locked car to get out a child or a pet?

If you see a child or pet locked in a hot car and they appear to be in distress, you can break the window to get them out without fear of repercussion. Texas law protects you from being charged under the Good Samaritan Act, which allows people to administer emergency care without being held liable for damages.

Arrested for leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas?

If you or a loved one has been arrested for leaving a child in a vehicle, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The police and CPS are going to want to speak with you – something you should not do without an attorney present. Varghese Summersett has a team of experienced criminal defense attorneys who previously served as specially trained child abuse prosecutors. We know how to defend these cases and will work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for you and your family. Call us today at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation. We handle cases in North Texas, including Tarrant and Dallas and counties.