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Varghese Summersett

Check back regularly for updates on the murder trial of ex-Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean, who is accused of fatally shooting Atatiana Jefferson. On Oct. 12, 2019, Jefferson’s neighbor called a non-emergency number about 2:25 a.m. to report an open door at Jefferson’s home. Officer Dean and his partner arrived and went around the back of the house. Dean shot Jefferson through the window of the home after she raised a handgun and pointed it toward the backyard.

Dean was later arrested and charged with murder in Jefferson’s death. Jury selection in his trial wrapped up on Friday, December 2, in state District Judge George Gallagher’s Court in Fort Worth, Texas. Testimony is scheduled to begin Monday morning. Follow Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney Benson Varghese at @tx-lawyer on TikTok for the latest developments in this high-profile trial.

@tx_lawyer Was this #selfdefense? #jurytrial of #atatianajefferson is underway. This trial is being watched nationwide by people who #backtheblue, endorse #blm, watch #crimaljustice, and are calling for the community to #sayhername @tx_lawyer @tarrantcountyTX ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

 

@tx_lawyer The jury in the #atatianajefferson Aaron Dean trial has been selected. What do you think about the makeup of the #jury? @lawandcrime @Jenna Lynn @Kat?? @Feed The Funk @Angel @Dom @Uncle Paul @Angel ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

@tx_lawyer Why are prosecutors asking potential jurors about manslaughter in the #AtatianaJefferson Aaron Dean jury trial on murder? There were also lots of questions about #2A, #backtheblue, #blm #deadlyforce #selfdefense ? original sound – Benson

@tx_lawyer The magic question in #juryselection was asked yesterday in the #atatianajefferson Aaron Dean case. Here’s what happened. #news #fyp ? original sound – Benson

@tx_lawyer Here’s what’s happening in the #aarondean #atatianajefferson case as of Tuesday, November 29. This case has garnered nationwide media attention after a white Fort Worth police officer was charged with murder after the shooting death of a black woman in her home. #news #trial @tx_lawyer ? original sound – Benson

@tx_lawyer The #trial of a Fort Worth #police officer for #murder is set to begin in #court today. #News updates as they happen in the #atatianajefferson #aarondean case. #lawyersoftiktok #law #crime #selfdefense #2a ? original sound – Benson
Varghese Summersett

Fort Worth attorney Benson Varghese doesn’t call his law firm’s latest video a music video. He refers to it as a “lyrical poem video.” Not exactly sure what’s the difference, but who is going to argue with an attorney?

The music video, err lyrical poem, features Benson rapping about his firm, Varghese Summersett, a premier criminal defense and family law practice in North Texas. The video – “There’s No Substitution” – is another example of how Benson is changing the face of law by thinking outside the box.

“We pride ourselves on being different than other law firms,” Benson says. “We’re no strangers to video production. We have tons of YouTube and TikTok videos in which we talk about the law or answer legal questions, but I wanted to find a creative way to showcase the firm and our exceptional attorneys and staff.

“So, we came up with some lyrics and put it to background music. The only problem was I am musically challenged and literally cannot hear a beat. I really had to get out of my comfort zone. That’s not dissimilar from what we have to do as lawyers: It’s more than knowing the law, it’s also about being willing to take risks and try something different to stay ahead.”

Check out the video – and then keep reading to learn more from Benson about how and why this one-of-a-kind law firm music video came to be.

You refer to your video as a lyrical poem. How’s that different than a “music video?”

Well, as my wife will tell you, I have absolutely no musical abilities or even the ability to hear a beat. A lyrical poem is just a poem, a statement, that’s made over music. It’s not necessarily lyrics to music; it’s just that there’s music in the background of the spoken word. So, I guess that’s kind of a music video, but you know, the benefit for me is there was no requirement to have a pitch or tone or get the beat exactly right.

So would you describe it as a rap?

I will not do a disservice to actual artists who rap by calling what I did a rap. But did I binge-watch a lot of rap music videos to get some inspiration? Absolutely.

Who came up with the idea? 

Well, when we first started the firm, we were inspired by a company in town that did advertising, and they made a video for themselves that was a spoken poem – or whatever we are calling this, a lyrical video. I always loved it. Unfortunately, by the time I got to a point where I could afford to hire them, they had been acquired by a different company. So, that company no longer exists. It then fell on us to make our own brand video, or lyrical poem video.

The lyrics are great. Who wrote them?

It was a collaborative effort. My wife Anna, who is also a partner and lawyer here, wrote a lot of it. I wrote a lot of it. Then, we met as a firm and took votes on which versions of the poem people liked better.

Ultimately, and probably to Anna’s chagrin – and because I was the one actually speaking it – I got to make a lot of decisions about what went into the final version. Arguably, hers would have gone with the music better, but I had to go with what I was most comfortable with because I was the voice.

What’s your favorite line or lyric?

We bide our time
the perfect moments sought,
like Mike
setting up for that perfect shot.”

Everyone seems to like the “setting up a shot like Mike” line, I think because Jordan made things look so effortless even though it took years and years of work, which translates so well to what we do. You know, we had to be in trials and get all of that experience to go in and make it look easy.

What is the message that you’re hoping to convey in this video?

Well, the message that’s not necessarily obvious is that, as trial attorneys, we have to master whatever subject comes across our desk. I might get a case in which there is a very technical matter or very specific subject matter that I’ve never come across before. So, let’s imagine that we have a white-collar case with a very nuanced issue with the financial records and how the accounting was done. As a trial attorney, it’s not enough for me to just go hire an expert to testify; I also have to master that subject.

So, music and rap is something completely outside of my comfort zone. And so I said, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and while I may not have mastered it, I would say I could put it up against anything any other lawyer has done and feel good about it.

To your knowledge, has any other Texas lawyer done something like this?

The only attorneys that I can think of that have done something similar – and that I thought was really good – are a couple of attorneys in Texas who have a song, “Don’t Eat Your Weed.” The difference is those guys actually have a lot of musical talent. They’re very good storytellers, and they’re very good at conveying messages through their music. Our video is very different. I have no musical abilities, but I’m trying to get across what our firm is all about.

You have a reputation for thinking outside the box. Is this law firm music video another example of that?

Absolutely, we are always trying to push the envelope while still staying on brand. There was certainly a lot of discussion within the office during the development stage about whether this matched our brand. And ultimately, I think everyone was happy with what we produced.

It’s important for us not to pretend to be something we’re not. So, for example, if I had tried to be a rapper, that obviously wouldn’t have been true. But I think people can understand that we came up with this poetry, and it’s heartfelt, and it’s authentic. That is ultimately, what we were shooting for.

What kind of music do you normally listen to?

I have a very eclectic taste in music. I’ll listen to everything from 70s and 80s rock, to old-school rap, to what I consider Texas country or red dirt music. So it’s a wide gamut of music. I’m probably behind on most of pop music; I really rely on the office and my wife to keep me up to date on that kind of stuff.

Who produced the law firm music video?

We have been working for years with a company called Crisp. They make excellent legal videos. And even with Crisp, who does legal brand videos, we keep asking them to do things they’ve never done before.

So last year, we produced what I like to call our “heist video.” Every time we meet with that company, they comment on how no one’s ever done anything like that before. And the same is true of this law firm music video. This type of video is not what they do, but this is what we asked them to do – and they always come through for us.

Were you nervous about recording it?

I was worried about recording it because, even though it’s not lyrics to a musical beat, I did still have to hit some sort of a rhythm, which I am not naturally inclined to do. I was also worried about how many takes it would require. Fortunately, I think we got it done in three takes, and it didn’t take the entire day like I was concerned it might.

What’s the feedback so far?

So far, folks have really loved it within the office, and everyone that seen it has really loved it. We’re excited to see if it resonates with the general public over the next year.

You held a competition on the day the video was launched in which you asked, “What does N95 have in common with our latest video?” What was that all about?

After we shot this video, unbeknownst to us, Kendrick Lamar also shot in the same place in his in N95 video. So we wanted to create some interest by asking that question. It just turned out that he shot in the Fort Worth Water Gardens, and we did as well. We thought that was a fun way to tie it in.

Is there another law firm music video in Varghese Summersett’s future?

I don’t know; it took a lot of work to make this one. I suppose that will just depend on the response we get.

Varghese Summersett

Violent juvenile crimes in Texas are on the rise, and in Tarrant County, that’s especially true with homicides. In fact, homicides increased 80 percent from 2020 to 2021, the most recent year statistics were available. This increase in violent juvenile offenses has led to a need for experienced, highly-skilled juvenile defense attorneys.

Fortunately, the law firm of Varghese Summersett has one of the best violent juvenile crimes attorneys in Texas. Lisa Herrick is Board Certified in Juvenile Law – a designation held by only 65 attorneys in the state and three in Tarrant County.  She is widely considered to be the area’s foremost expert in defending juveniles accused of violent crimes.

If your child is between the ages of 10 and 16 and has been accused of a violent offense in Fort Worth, Arlington, or the surrounding area, it is imperative to contact an attorney specializing in juvenile law. In this article, we will discuss Tarrant County’s increase in violent juvenile crime and why Lisa is the go-to attorney for serious juvenile felony cases, including murder and capital murder. Please be sure to watch all of Lisa’s informative videos on this webpage.

What violent juvenile crimes have increased in Tarrant County?

In Tarrant County, 473 juveniles were taken into custody last year for violent juvenile offenses, including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault, according to the 2021 Tarrant County Juvenile Services annual report. This is a 19.7 percent increase from the year before, when 395 juveniles were referred to the county’s juvenile services department for violent offenses.

  • Homicide: In 2021, 18 juveniles were accused of homicide in Tarrant County, compared to 10 juveniles the year before. That’s an 80 percent increase in one year and more than a 100 percent increase from five years prior. In 2017, five juveniles were accused of homicide in Tarrant County.
  • Sexual Assault: In 2021, 124 juveniles were accused of sexual assault in Tarrant County – a 93.8 percent increase from the year before when 64 juveniles were accused of sexual assault.
  • Robbery: In 2021, 91 juveniles were referred to juvenile authorities for robbery, slightly up from 86 the year before.
  • Aggravated Assault: In 2021, 236 juveniles were referred to Tarrant County’s juvenile services department for aggravated robbery, slightly up from 233 the year before.

What should you do if your child has been accused of a violent juvenile offense?

Lisa Herrick Juvenile Defense Lawyer

Lisa Herrick, Board Certified in Juvenile Law

If your child has been accused of a violent juvenile offense in Tarrant County, one of the first things you should do is contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney. The consequences of a violent juvenile crime can be life-altering, and it is imperative to have an attorney who specializes in this area of law, practices daily in juvenile court, and knows the process and the players. Things move fast in the juvenile system, and you need an attorney who will hit the ground running immediately. 

What happens to a minor who has been accused of a violent juvenile crime in Tarrant County?

If your child has been taken into custody for a violent juvenile offense in Tarrant County, he or she will be taken to the Tarrant County Juvenile Detention Center in Fort Worth. The juvenile will have a detention hearing within two business days after admission. At this hearing, the judge will decide whether to continue detaining the youth or whether the youth can go home while the case is pending.

After the juvenile detention hearing, the next steps in the process depend on whether the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office is seeking to prosecute the child as a juvenile or as an adult. Below is a brief description of certain aspects of the process that may occur after a violent juvenile offense accusation. It’s important to understand that these are basic descriptions of steps in the procees if a minor has been accused of a violent offense.

For more information,  please contact Lisa Herrick, an experienced violent juvenile crimes attorney who has handled hundreds of juvenile cases and knows the system inside and out.

  • Juvenile Detention Hearing. Unlike the adult system, juveniles do not get “bonded out” of jail. Whether a juvenile is released from detention and under what conditions is decided by a judge after a detention hearing. Watch this video by Lisa to learn more about juvenile detention hearings:

     

  • Juvenile Certification. If a juvenile is accused of a violent offense, such as murder or sexual assault, prosecutors can seek to certify the juvenile to stand trial as an adult. If the judge agrees, the case will be transferred to the adult criminal justice system for prosecution. If that occurs, the minor will be subject to the adult criminal justice process and the penalties associated with that offense (except capital murder and sex offender registration). If prosecutors do not seek certification or the judge declines to grant certification, the case will remain in juvenile court. In 2021, 13 juveniles – out of 33 – were certified to stand trial as an adult in Tarrant County. Watch Lisa’s video to learn more about juvenile certification:

  • The Adjudication Hearing (Trial). If the juvenile remains in juvenile court, he or she will have an adjudication hearing – basically a trial – in which a judge or jury will determine whether they are “delinquent” or “not delinquent.” When a juvenile has been adjudicated “delinquent,” a judge or jury has found the criminal allegations true – this is equivalent to a conviction or “guilty” verdict in adult court. If the youth has been found “not delinquent” after a trial,  it means the allegations have been found not true by a jury or judge – this is the equivalent of an acquittal or “not guilty” in adult court. If the charges are found not true, the case will be dismissed.

  • Disposition Hearing (Sentencing). If a juvenile has been adjudicated “delinquent,” a disposition (or sentencing) hearing will occur, and the judge will decide the appropriate punishment. This could include probation, placement out of the home, or commitment to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), which is juvenile prison.A commitment to TJJD can be for a determinate or indeterminate amount of time, depending on the severity of the case. Determinate sentences are reserved for more serious felonies and give the court the option of extending a punishment beyond a youth’s 18th birthday. If prosecutors seek a determinate sentence, it must first be approved by a grand jury.  Watch Lisa’s video to learn more about juvenile punishment and determinate and indeterminate sentences:

    We have touched briefly on various steps in the process if your child is accused of a violent juvenile offense in Tarrant County. But again, this is just a general overview – and we know it can be confusing.  That’s why it is imperative to seek the guidance of an experienced juvenile attorney who can thoroughly explain the process and give you specific advice on the best way to defend your child going forward.

    What is the most serious crime for which a juvenile can be charged?

    The most serious crime for which a juvenile can be changed in Texas is capital murder. However, the juvenile punishment for capital murder is not the same as in the adult system, where the punishment is life in prison without parole or the death penalty. Watch this video by Lisa to learn more about the difference between capital murder in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems:

    What kinds of violent juvenile crimes has Lisa handled?

    Lisa has handled just about every type of violent juvenile crime – first as a prosecutor and now as a highly-regarded juvenile defense attorney. Lisa was a prosecutor in Tarrant County’s juvenile division before going into private practice as a defense attorney. She knows how prosecutors think and what they look for when trying to build a case against a juvenile. This makes her an invaluable asset to have on your side if your child is accused of any violent juvenile crime, including.

    • Capital Murder
    • Murder
    • Attempted Murder
    • Manslaughter
    • Intoxication Manslaughter
    • Criminally Negligent Homicide
    • Aggravated Sexual Assault
    • Sexual Assault
    • Aggravated Assault
    • Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon
    • Aggravated Robbery
    • Robbery
    • Aggravated Kidnapping
    • Gun and Weapons Possession
  • Child accused of violent juvenile crime in Tarrant County? Call Lisa.

    Lisa appears in Tarrant County juvenile court daily and has the experience and expertise to defend serious criminal allegations, from sexual assault to murder. She is highly skilled in juvenile certification and determinate sentencing hearings, which are common in violent juvenile crime cases.

    If your child is accused of a violent juvenile offense, life is about to change dramatically. You need an experienced violent juvenile crime attorney who will g guide you through this difficult process and fight to protect their future. Contact Lisa today at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation. Time is of the essence.

Varghese Summersett

Juvenile First Offender Program in Texas

Texas Family Code Sec. 52.031 allows juvenile boards across the state to establish first offender programs for the referral and disposition of children aged 10 to 16 taken into custody or accused before the filing of a criminal charge of:

  1. Conduct indicating a need for supervision;
  2. A Class C misdemeanor, other than a traffic offense; or
  3. Delinquent conduct other than conduct that constitutes a first, second, or third-degree felony, an aggravated controlled substance felony, a capital felony, a state jail felony or misdemeanor involving violence to a person, or the use of or possession of a firearm, location-restricted knife, club, or a prohibited weapon, as described in the Texas Penal Code.

Texas’ juvenile first-offender program was designed to give children who have never before been in trouble with the law a second chance. The program’s purpose is to divert juveniles from the justice system and reduce recidivism.

The adopted guidelines aren’t considered mandatory, but if accepted, the program offers youths the opportunity to keep their records clean. 

The first-offender program gives minors a chance to start over after committing an offense without the presence of a juvenile record.

In this post, we’ll explain the first offender program, how it works, who qualifies, and what it looks like in Tarrant County.

If your child has been referred to the juvenile justice system, an experienced juvenile attorney is invaluable. Varghese Summersett’s juvenile attorney Lisa Herrick is here to help protect their future.

Is the first offender program only for first-time offenders?

Yes. First-offender programs in Texas are just for juveniles who have been taken into custody for the first time.

How is a child referred to Tarrant County’s juvenile first offender program?

An officer must file a written referral to the relevant juvenile agency to refer a juvenile to a first-offender program. The officer must identify the child and specify the grounds for taking the child into custody. Any child referred to the juvenile first offender program can’t be detained by law enforcement custody, per Texas Family Code §52.031(e). The parent, guardian, or another custodian must be notified that the child has been referred to the juvenile first offender program. Participation in a juvenile first offender program is voluntary and must be agreed to by the child and parent or guardian.

According to Texas Family Code, the officer must include in his notice of referral to the juvenile first offender program the following:

  1. State the grounds for taking the child into custody for conduct described by 52.031 (a) or for accusing the child of an offense described by Subsection (a-1);
  2. Identify the law enforcement officer or agency to which the child was referred;
  3. Briefly describe the nature of the program; and
  4. State that the child’s failure to complete the program will result in the child being referred to the juvenile court for the conduct or a complaint filed with a criminal court for the offense.

Subsection 52.031 (a-1) states “a child accused of a Class C misdemeanor, other than a traffic offense, may be referred to a first offender program established under this section prior to the filing of a complaint with a criminal court.”

Does the first offender program include restitution to the victim or community service?

Juvenile first offender programs may include voluntary restitution to a victim, community service, vocational training, education, counseling, or other rehabilitative services. The program may also require periodic reporting by the child to a designated agency.

What happens if the juvenile completes a first offender program?

If a youth successfully completes a first offender program, the case is closed and won’t be referred to the juvenile court.

What happens if the juvenile fails to complete a first offender program?

If a juvenile fails to complete the first offender program or the child or the child’s parent or guardian terminates the program early, or the child is taken into custody within 90 days of completing the program, they’ll be referred to the juvenile court. 

Do law enforcement agencies keep a record of successful first offender programs?

Yes, law enforcement agencies can keep a record of the child’s successful completion of a juvenile first offender program beyond the 90-day destruction period, but only to determine the child’s eligibility to participate in another program. After 90 days, the offense is erased from their record.

Who is eligible for Texas’ juvenile first offender program?

The minor must be aged 10 to 16 and be a first-time offender. Juveniles who commit state jail felonies or misdemeanor offenses not involving violence to a person or the use or possession of a firearm, location-restricted knife, club, or a prohibited weapon, as those terms are defined in the penal code, are eligible for the program, as are juveniles who commit a class C offense, other than a traffic offense.

Who is not eligible for Texas’ juvenile first offender program?

Charges involving assaults, weapons, or sexual crimes resulting in the requirement to register as a sex offender do not qualify for the program.

Juvenile first offender programs in Tarrant County

There are first offender programs available throughout Tarrant County.

The Lena Pope Home in Fort Worth operates the Second Opportunity for Success, a behavioral intervention program. The seven-week program aims to prevent future criminal behavior in first-time juvenile offenders. Intensive counseling and skill-building instruction involve the child and their families to help improve their relationships, school performance, and behavior. Children aged 10-16 must be referred to the program by the appropriate agency. Classes are held on the Lena Pope campus at 3001 Sanguinet Street in Fort Worth.

Has your child been deferred to a first offender program? Call us.

If your child is detained by law enforcement and referred to a juvenile first offender program, you must protect their rights. Varghese Summersett’s Lisa Herrick is one of only three Board Certified juvenile attorneys in Tarrant County. She will fight for your child to ensure the best possible result. Call Lisa for a free consultation at 817-203-2220.

Varghese Summersett

Court Ruling: Are Eight-Liners Legal?

The Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth addressed the issue of eight-liners in Texas. The issue was whether the eight-liner gambling machines are unconstitutional or illegal.

Short Answer: Eight-Liners are Illegal in Texas, according to the Second Court of Appeals.

What are Eight-Liner Machines?

An eight-liner machine is an electronic gaming machine that resembles a slot machine. Depending on the type of machine, a player generally ‘wins’ if a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row of objects line up.

Texas law forbids gambling devices such as eight-liners from awarding cash prizes. However, an exception commonly referred to as the ‘fuzzy animal’ exception grants operators the ability to award non-cash prizes worth less than $5.

The Texas Constitution commands that the legislature passes laws that prohibit lotteries. Since 1845 the Texas Constitution has continuously prohibited lotteries. The word lottery includes various activities that involve (at minimum) the payment of consideration for a chance to win a prize. And case law has stated that the activity’s name itself does not make the slightest difference, than an activity can be considered a lottery when the element of chance is connected with or enters into the distribution of its prizes.

Even with the best of intentions, the state legislature cannot sanction a lottery of any type; a constitutional amendment is necessary. This has happened before, for instance, the legislature proposed and voters approved of a 1980 constitutional amendment to allow charitable bingo. This authorized legislature to allow and regulate “bingo games conducted by a church, synagogue, religious society, volunteer fire department, nonprofit veterans’ organization, fraternal organization, or a nonprofit organization supporting medical research or treatment programs.” A later amendment allowed ‘charitable raffles’ to be held by the same types of organizations. As it currently stands, these are the only types of lotteries the Texas Constitution allows.

The Fuzzy-Animal Exclusion

Texas authorities have concluded that slot machines or eight-liners are considered lottery, specifically in Queen v. State that as a matter of law states these machines as lottery. Eight-liners generally operate as video slot machines. 1n 1995, the legislature enacted an exclusion by adding Section 47.01(4)(B) to the Penal code that allowed amusement centers such as Chuck E. Cheese, Dave and Busters, and others with electronic and mechanical games that could arguably constitute lotteries or gambling problems by making this exception so that ‘if the contrivance designed, made, and adapted solely for amusement purposes if the contrivance rewards the player exclusively with noncash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties, or a representation of value redeemable for those items that have a wholesale value available from a single play of the game or device of not more than 10 times the amount charged to play the game or device once or $5, whichever is less.’ Eight-liner owners started relying on this fuzzy-animal exclusion in arguing that their machines are not illegal gambling devices. Depending on how eight-liners awarded prizes of particular types, their argument had varying levels of success or failure. State v. $1,760.00 in U.S Currency held that these machines did not fall within the exclusion because the distributed tickets were not redeemable exclusively for noncash merchandise prizes, toys or novelties.

The Court concludes that with precedent stretching back more than a century, there is no doubt that eight-liners are lotteries and that without an amendment to the Texas Constitution, they are forbidden. The Second Court of Appeals was not swayed by the three arguments made in this case:

  • Losing Argument 1: Legislature can’t define around the constitution
    • The operators asserted that the Texas Constitution doesn’t define lottery, thus the legislature is free to decide within reason what the word means as it can also establish and define criminal offenses and applicable defenses. They say the fuzzy-animal exclusion represents nothing more than a proper exercise of the power of the legislature to establish definitional contours of lotteries. The Court disagrees with this assessment, citing that they consider “the intent of the people who adopted it,” but because discerning long-ago intent is difficult, they must give effect to the constitution’s plain language. Certainly, by 1876, a lottery was understood to involve the elements of chance, consideration, and prize. Because the operators stipulated that their eight-liners award prizes by chance and for consideration, the machines are lotteries, and the legislature cannot define around that fact. The legislature is not empowered to remove from the definition of ‘lottery’ a game that inarguably resembles the constitutional meaning of ‘lottery’.
  • Losing Argument 1: The Fact that Not All Forms of Gambling are Lotteries is Irrelevant
    • The Operators contended that while all lotteries are a form of gambling, not all forms of gambling are lotteries. The Operators pointed to Stanley v. State in which a marble machine was not found to be a lottery. From this case, Operators deduce that the question of what is and what is not a lottery does not distil to a handy three-part test. The Court deems that this is not relevant; in the matter of Stanley the machine was never described, and the tripartite test was never mentioned. In any event, the Operators have not sufficiently explained what elements beyond chance, consideration, and prize are pertinent when it comes to whether their eight-liners are unconstitutional lotteries. The Court concludes that what is and what is not a lottery does, in fact distill to a handy three-part test.
  • Losing Argument 3: The 1980 Constitutional amendment didn’t change the fact that eight-liners are lotteries
    • Before 1980 Article III, Section 47 read “The Legislature shall pass laws prohibiting the establishment of lotteries and gift enterprises in this state, as well as the sale of tickets in lotteries, gift enterprises or other evasions involving the lottery principle established or existing in other states”. After charitable bingo was approved in 1980 and charitable raffles and state lottery later was approved, the section now reads “The Legislature shall pass laws prohibiting lotteries and gift enterprises in this state other than those authorized by Subsections (b), (D), (D-1), and (e ) of this section. The Operators argued legal significance in the 1980 deletion of language about lottery ‘evasions,’ and the Court concedes it may be significant in some hypotheticals, however, eight-liners are not evasions involving the lottery principle as they are lotteries plain and simple.

Conclusion: Eight-Liners are Illegal in Texas

The Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ultimately ruled that these eight-liner machines are lotteries and are thus unconstitutional under Article III, which requires the legislature to pass laws prohibiting lotteries. Ultimately, this means that voters will have to approve a constitutional amendment to authorize eight-liners, similarly to how they have in the past made amendments for charitable bingo and the state lottery.

Varghese Summersett

What is the Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas?

Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas [5 Things Most People Don't Know]The Romeo and Juliet statute is an affirmative defense that recognizes that, although a person has to be 17 in Texas to be able to give consent to sexual activity, it does not make sense to prosecute minors for a felony when they willingly engage in sexual activity with someone close to their age. Romeo and Juliet statutes range from two to five years in Texas based on the nature of the alleged offense.

In Texas, the Romeo-Juliet law may protect from prosecution young adults or teenagers within three years of age who are both over the age of 14 and willingly engage in sexual conduct. In these cases, a sex crime charge could be reduced or possibly dismissed.

This is an affirmative defense, so a person can be charged with the offense regardless of age and must raise the defense in court.

The Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas is based on the Alleged Offense

Most people (even many lawyers) incorrectly assume the Romeo and Juliet law in Texas is always a three-year provision. The Romeo and Juliet law in Texas varies based on the alleged offense.

  1. Sexual assault of a Child3-year Romeo-Juliet provision – See PC 22.011
  2. Indecency with a Child3-year Romeo-Juliet provision – See PC 21.11
  3. Online solicitation3-year Romeo-Juliet provision – See PC 33.021
  4. Sexual Performance by a Child2-year Romeo-Juliet provision – See PC 43.25
  5. Electronic Transmission of Certain Visual Materials2-year Romeo-Juliet provision – See PC 43.261
  6. Continuous Sexual Assault5-year Romeo-Juliet provision- See PC 21.02

The Romeo and Juliet Statute is an Affirmative Defense

Remember, this is an affirmative defense, not a defense. This means that you can raise something in an argument to defend yourself after you have been arrested, but it will not prevent a lawful arrest from happening in the first place. So as you are contemplating choices, remember asserting the Romeo-Juliet statute in Texas is likely only to occur after you have been arrested, someone bonds you out, and you already have a criminal case pending. Similarly, there will be a court document that says you were charged with Indecency with a Minor or Sexual Assault of a Minor until and unless you can get those records expunged. Remember also that, regardless of how the individuals involved in the act may feel about it, anyone can report the sexual relationship to the police. Similarly, if there is a pregnancy, hospital staff will seek information on the child’s father, his age, and are likely to report any possible offense to the police.

Can I Have Sex with Someone Who is __ Years old?

A common question, especially among young adults, is when they can legally have sex. The easy answer is that if both parties are over 17 in Texas, sexual conduct is legal. If both parties are over 18, sexual activity is generally legal under state and federal law. Federal law is generally only implicated if one person crossed state lines to have sex.

What age can you have sex in Texas?

The age a person can give consent to have sex in Texas is 17. Yet the law envisions scenarios where two minors may have a sexual relationship and should not be prosecuted. So an affirmative defense was created that applies in certain situations. While this article talks in detail about the Romeo-Juliet statute, assuming we are trying to answer the question of when is the youngest age you can legally (at least through an affirmative defense) have sex in Texas is 14 with someone who is also a minor. An affirmative defense means you can still be arrested and charged but you can raise the defense in court. Another exemption which isn’t tied to an age is if two people are married.

Romeo and Juliet Law for Sex Offender Registration Requirements in Texas

A little-known rule is you don’t have to register as a sex offender for Indecency with a Child or Sexual Assault of a Child if the court makes an affirmative finding that at the time of the offense, the defendant was not more than 4 years older than the victim, and the victim was at least 15, and the offense is solely based on age. See 42.017 and 62.301 CCP

Both Penal Code 21.11 and Penal Code 22.011 provide slightly different affirmative defenses, but generally allow an affirmative defense for a person who is no more than three years older than the child. This only applies if the younger child is at least 14 years old.

Criminal Law Experts in Romeo and Juliet Law

The Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas is often misunderstood, and important defenses are often overlooked. Contact us immediately if you are charged with a child sex crime in north Texas. We have a proven track record of success.

Varghese Summersett

What is the Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas?

Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas [5 Most People Don't Know]The Romeo and Juliet statute is an affirmative defense that recognizes that although a person has to be 17 in Texas to be able to give consent to sexual activity, it does not make sense to prosecute minors for a felony when they willingly engage in sexual activity with someone close to their age. Romeo and Juliet statutes range from two to five years in Texas based on the nature of the alleged offense.

In Texas, the Romeo-Juliet law may protect from prosecution young adults or teenagers within three years of age who are both over the age of 14 and willingly engage in sexual conduct. In these cases, a sex crime charge could be reduced or possibly dismissed.

This is an affirmative defense, so a person can be charged with the offense regardless of age and must raise the defense in court.

The Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas is based on the Alleged Offense

Most people (even many lawyers) incorrectly assume the Romeo and Juliet law in Texas is always a three-year provision. The Romeo and Juliet law in Texas varies based on the alleged offense.

  1. Sexual assault of a Child3-year Romeo-Juliet provision – See PC 22.011
  2. Indecency with a Child3-year Romeo-Juliet provision – See PC 21.11
  3. Online solicitation3-year Romeo-Juliet provision – See PC 33.021
  4. Sexual Performance by a Child2-year Romeo-Juliet provision – See PC 43.25
  5. Electronic Transmission of Certain Visual Materials2-year Romeo-Juliet provision – See PC 43.261
  6. Continuous Sexual Assault5-year Romeo-Juliet provision- See PC 21.02

The Romeo and Juliet Statute is an Affirmative Defense

Remember, this is an affirmative defense, not a defense. This means that you can raise something in an argument to defend yourself after you have been arrested, but it will not prevent a lawful arrest from happening in the first place. So as you are contemplating choices, remember asserting the Romeo-Juliet statute in Texas is likely only to occur after you have been arrested, someone bonds you out, and you already have a criminal case pending. Similarly, there will be a court document that says you were charged with Indecency with a Minor or Sexual Assault of a Minor until and unless you can get those records expunged. Remember also that, regardless of how the individuals involved in the act may feel about it, anyone can report the sexual relationship to the police. Similarly, if there is a pregnancy, hospital staff will seek information on the child’s father, his age, and are likely to report any possible offense to the police.

Can I Have Sex with Someone Who is __ Years old?

A common question, especially among young adults, is when they can legally have sex. The easy answer is that if both parties are over 17 in Texas, sexual conduct is legal. If both parties are over 18, sexual activity is generally legal under state and federal law. Federal law is generally only implicated if one person crossed state lines to have sex.

What age can you have sex in Texas?

The age a person can give consent to have sex in Texas is 17. Yet the law envisions scenarios where two minors may have a sexual relationship and should not be prosecuted. So an affirmative defense was created that applies in certain situations. While this article talks in detail about the Romeo-Juliet statute, assuming we are trying to answer the question of when is the youngest age you can legally (at least through an affirmative defense) have sex in Texas is 14 with someone who is also a minor. An affirmative defense means you can still be arrested and charged but you can raise the defense in court. Another exemption which isn’t tied to an age is if two people are married.

Romeo and Juliet Law for Sex Offender Registration Requirements in Texas

A little-known rule is you don’t have to register as a sex offender for Indecency with a Child or Sexual Assault of a Child if the court makes an affirmative finding that at the time of the offense, the defendant was not more than 4 years older than the victim, and the victim was at least 15, and the offense is solely based on age. See 42.017 and 62.301 CCP

Both Penal Code 21.11 and Penal Code 22.011 provide slightly different affirmative defenses, but generally allow an affirmative defense for a person who is no more than three years older than the child. This only applies if the younger child is at least 14 years old.

Criminal Law Experts in Romeo and Juliet Law

The Romeo and Juliet Law in Texas is often misunderstood, and important defenses are often overlooked. Contact us immediately if you are charged with a child sex crime in north Texas. We have a proven track record of success.

Varghese Summersett

What Texas law makes selling fake drugs a crime?

Under Chapter 482.002 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, a person commits the offense of “unlawful delivery or manufacture with intent to deliver” a simulated controlled substance if he or she:

(1) expressly represents the substance to be a controlled substance;

(2) represents the substance to be a controlled substance in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the substance is a controlled substance; or

(3) states to the person receiving or intended to receive the simulated controlled substance that the person may successfully represent the substance to be a controlled substance to a third party.

Selling fake drugs in Texas

Tarrant County officials recently announced the county’s largest-ever seizure of fentanyl when more than 2,000 grams were found in a residence. The sheriff’s office claimed it was enough fentanyl to cause more than a million fatal doses.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid often found disguised as something less powerful in counterfeit pills. Unsuspecting buyers, including school-aged children, are accidentally overdosing on spiked pills that look like brand-name drugs such as Oxycontin, Percocet, and Vicodin. Mass-produced fake prescription pills are often falsely marketed as the real deal and sold on social media platforms by criminal drug networks.

Selling fake drugs in Texas is illegal, regardless of whether it’s a counterfeit prescription drug or baking flour packed to look like cocaine. And prosecutors aren’t taking these cases lightly.

If you have been arrested or under investigation for an alleged simulated substance or counterfeit drug offense, you should retain legal counsel as soon as possible. The criminal defense attorneys at Varghese Summersett have vast experience handling drug cases. 

How does Texas define fake drugs?

The Texas Health and Safety Code defines a simulated controlled substance as any substance “purported to be a controlled substance, but is chemically different from the controlled substance it is purported to be.”

State law makes it a criminal offense to possess, manufacture or deliver a counterfeit substance or any device that can be used to manufacture counterfeit substances.

A counterfeit drug in Texas includes the drug, the container, or labeling of a drug that without authorization, resembles the trademark, brand name, or identifying logo of a “drug manufacturer, processor, packer or distributor” other than the actual company that manufactured, processed, packed, or distributed the drug,” and falsely purports or represents to be the real product or to have been packed or distributed by the actual manufacturer, processor, packer, or distributor.

How do Texas courts determine fake drug offenses?

Texas courts typically consider three main factors when evaluating whether someone represented a simulated controlled substance to be a legitimate controlled substance in a way that could lead a reasonable person to believe the substance was, in fact, a controlled substance.

Under Texas law, the court may consider all relevant factors in the case, including: 

  1. The simulated controlled substance was packaged in a manner generally used for the delivery of a controlled substance.
  2. The delivery or intended delivery included an exchange of or demand for property as consideration for delivery of the substance, and the amount was substantially more than the reasonable value of the simulated controlled substance.
  3. The physical appearance of the finished product containing the substance was substantially identical to a controlled substance.

Texas law requires proof that an offer to sell a simulated controlled substance is “corroborated by a person other than the offeree or by evidence other than a statement of the offeree.”

Do prosecutors have to prove the nature of a fake drug?

No. Prosecutors do not need to prove anything regarding the nature of the actual substance involved in a case involving the sale of a simulated controlled substance. 

The state only needs to prove that what was offered to the buyer was represented as a controlled substance. This is an important distinction because the description of the offense, such as the delivery of heroin by offering to sell it, incorrectly suggests prosecutors must prove the actual substance was indeed heroin. It doesn’t.

What is the punishments for selling fake drugs in Texas?

Selling fake drugs in Texas is a state jail felony punishable by 6 months to 2 years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.

State Jail Felony

State Jail Felony Punishment in Texas

Texas fake drug offenses include more than selling

A Texas resident can also be charged with a Class A misdemeanor fraud offense if they knowingly or intentionally make, distribute or possess any tool or device used to reproduce an actual or simulated trademark, trade name, or other identifying mark to represent a controlled substance.

Under Texas Health and Safety Code, the receipt of a prescription drug that is adulterated, misbranded, stolen, obtained by fraud or deceit, counterfeit, or suspected of being fake, and the delivery or proffered delivery of such a drug for payment or otherwise is also a Class A misdemeanor offense.

Additional Class A misdemeanors include any act that causes a drug to be counterfeit, the sale or dispensing, or the holding for sale or dispensing of a counterfeit drug.

Recent examples of fake drug cases in Texas

In Texas, it’s possible to also be charged by state or federal prosecutors for selling fake drugs in Texas. Below are examples of defendants who were prosecuted for selling fake drugs. Some of the cases were prosecuted federally. This article describes the law and penalties in state court.

  • In 2022, a 40-year-old Fort Worth man was charged with selling fake Percocet pills laced with fentanyl.
  • In November 2021, nine people between the ages 35 and 60 were indicted in a Beaumont court for conspiring to traffic misbranded and counterfeit drugs, specifically promethazine-codeine cough syrup. The group allegedly sold more than $52 million in fake drugs.
  • In October 2021, 27 people between 23 and 64 in the Rio Grande Valley were arrested for trafficking counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine.
  • In September 2021, a 52-year-old Plano man who pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute and distribution of controlled substances, including counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.
  • In June 2021, a 20-year-old Colleyville man died from an accidental overdose of a fake prescription drug containing para-fluorofentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
  • In December 2020, 13 people in Austin were charged, including current and former college students, in connection with a drug trafficking operation that allegedly sold counterfeit prescription drugs laced with fentanyl and methamphetamine to college students in Central Texas. The alleged ringleader was a 23-year-old UT-Austin student at the time.
  • In 2019, a 34-year-old man was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for his role in a deadly San Antonio-based pill mill that sold more than 800,000 counterfeit prescription drugs between 2015 and 2017, including oxycodone pills laced with Fentanyl, Adderall pills laced with methamphetamine, and Xanax laced with cocaine.
  • In 2018, 10 airline employees at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport were charged with allegedly conspiring to smuggle counterfeit methamphetamine across the country on commercial airlines. Those arrested ranged in ages between 22 and 47.
  • In 2013, two men, including a 49-year-old in Katy, were charged with smuggling counterfeit Viagra from China into the United States. The counterfeit drugs were allegedly shipped in bulk to Houston and Chicago and sold in small quantities.

Accused of selling fake drugs in Fort Worth or the surrounding area? Call us.

It is essential for anyone who has been arrested on charges of possessing or selling fake or counterfeit drugs in Tarrant County to seek legal help from an experienced defense attorney. Varghese Summersett has decades of experience defending drug cases and a proven record of exceptional results. Call our defense firm for a free consultation at 817-203-2220.

Varghese Summersett

What information is in a Texas juvenile record?

Texas juvenile records contain documentation filed during a youth’s time in the juvenile justice system. These records pertain to juvenile offenders and proceedings brought under the Juvenile Justice Code. They do not include names of child witnesses or victims, records from municipal or JP courts, or records of non-juveniles which generally means before the age of 10 or after 17 in most cases. Juvenile records typically include: 

  • Basic information such as birthdate, home address
  • Reports of arrests, charges, and detention
  • Court documents
  • Disposition status
  • Treatment records
  • Academic records

Who has a juvenile record in Texas?

Anyone in Texas charged with a Class A or B misdemeanor criminal offense or any felony offense between ages 10 and 16 has a juvenile file and record in the county for which the offense occurred. 

If you were charged with specific Class C misdemeanor offenses, and the original court transferred the case to a juvenile court, you have a juvenile record.

Sealing Juvenile Records

Everyone deserves a second chance. This is especially true for children, who often must make mistakes – even big ones – to learn valuable lessons about behavior and society.

That is why keeping juvenile records as private as possible has become a priority for Texas. In this article, our attorneys will explain Texas juvenile records, including what they contain, who has access to them, and how to make sure they’re sealed. 

The good news is some people who have juvenile offenses in their past have their juvenile records automatically sealed on the day they turn 19, provided they meet specific requirements.

Finding the Right Juvenile Attorney

It’s possible, however,  to seal a child’s juvenile record much sooner with the help of an experienced juvenile attorney.

If your child has been taken into custody, it’s important to retain an attorney immediately to ensure the child’s Texas juvenile record is sealed. Varghese Summersett’s Lisa Herrick is one of only three Board Certified juvenile attorneys in Tarrant County. She is ready to defend your child’s future.

When Tarrant County’s Juvenile Court May Not Seal Records

Tarrant County’s juvenile court may reject the sealing of juvenile records if the person has:

  • Received a determinate sentence for engaging in serious crimes such as murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and aggravated robbery
  • Habitual felony conduct as described by Section 51.031
  • Required to register as a sex offender
  • Was committed to Texas Juvenile Justice Department or to a post-adjudication secure facility unless the person has been discharged from TJJD.

Who can access Texas juvenile records?

Texas juvenile records are confidential, with some significant exceptions.

Law enforcement officials, prosecutors, probation and corrections officers, and juvenile justice officials have access to juvenile records that have not been sealed. Sensitive information in juvenile records, including counseling history or drug treatment, is available only to authorized personnel. The exceptions, by Texas law, include:

  1. Military personnel, with permission of the juvenile offender
  2. Criminal justice agencies
  3. Noncriminal justice agency authorized by federal statute or federal executive order to receive juvenile justice record information
  4. Juvenile justice agency
  5. Texas Juvenile Justice Department;
  6. Office of the independent ombudsman of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department;
  7. A district, county, justice, or municipal court exercising jurisdiction over a juvenile

What are the benefits of sealing Texas juvenile records?

The person can lawfully deny any juvenile offenses if their records have been sealed.

According to Texas law, the information in the records, the fact that the records existed, or the person’s denial of the existence of the records or the person’s involvement in a juvenile matter may not be used against the person in any manner, including in:

  1.  A perjury prosecution or other criminal proceeding
  2.  A civil proceeding, including an administrative proceeding involving a governmental entity
  3. An application process for licensing or certification
  4. An admission, employment, or housing decision

Why is sealing Texas juvenile records important?

Without records sealing, anyone with a history in the juvenile justice system has a criminal record with Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI. 

Without sealing, an individual could be required to report existing juvenile records when applying for employment, school, or other applications. This could be an issue with college admissions, military enlistment, or obtaining financial aid or housing.

To be clear, however, juvenile records are not accessible to the general public the same way adult records are. But without a seal, multiple agencies have access, including criminal and juvenile justice agencies, school districts and schools where the person attends, governmental agencies if the disclosure is authorized by law, the Department of Family and Protective Services, and any person, agency, or institution having a “legitimate interest” in the matter, if they obtain permission from the court.

Your juvenile records are sealed automatically at age 18 if …

If you were referred to juvenile court for conduct in need of supervision (or CINS) and never referred for delinquent conduct, your records are sealed when you turn 18, as long as you do not have an adult felony conviction or any pending adult charges.

What if I don’t qualify for automatically sealed juvenile records?

If you were adjudicated for a felony or don’t meet the criteria for automatic sealing, you can apply to the court requesting that your records are sealed. The court could order the records sealed with or without a hearing. The court, in any instance, can’t deny an application for sealing without first hearing an argument. An attorney is advisable during this process. 

To qualify, you must:

  • Be at least age 17, or at least one year since the last court action or discharge from probation
  • Have no adult felony convictions or pending adult charges (other than Class C misdemeanors)
  • Was not transferred by a juvenile court to a criminal court or certified
  • Are not currently required to register as a sex offender and are not currently committed to TJJD
  • Received a determinate sentence adjudication

Why is it important to check if your records are sealed?

Although state law requires Texas juvenile records to be automatically sealed for qualifying persons, errors and delays occur. Some counties have a backlog of cases and are slow to process sealing. Also, cases that included felony adjudication are not eligible for automatic sealing, and an application to request a  seal is required. It is wise to have your attorney request that the juvenile court seals the records as soon as you are eligible.

Can Texas juvenile records be unsealed?

Yes, if you request that a court unseal your records or if a prosecutor asks for access for limited purposes, including a future prosecution for a capital offense or a future prosecution for an offense for which punishment can be enhanced based on your juvenile record.

When are Texas juvenile records destroyed?

The court can destroy juvenile records if no probable cause is found at intake or by a prosecutor. Destruction of juvenile records may be authorized by the juvenile board, the head of any law enforcement agency in the possession of records, or the prosecutor if:

  • At age 18, if the conduct in need of supervision was the most serious referral, whether or not the case was adjudicated
  • At age 21, if the most serious conduct adjudicated was a misdemeanor, or if a felony or misdemeanor referral, not adjudicated 
  • At age 31 if adjudicated for a felony

The above stipulations apply to all juvenile records, no matter when they were created but does not include records kept by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department for statistical purposes. Destruction of records also does not apply to juvenile court records or juvenile clerk’s records.

Is it possible for Texas juvenile records to be sealed automatically and immediately?

Texas Code section 58.2551 requires that juvenile records are automatically and immediately sealed upon a finding of not true. But for this to happen, it’s imperative to have an experienced juvenile attorney by your child’s side to have the best possible opportunity to receive a “not true” finding. In juvenile court, a not-true finding is comparable to a not-guilty verdict for adults.

Are juvenile records automatically sealed in Texas?

The Texas Juvenile Justice Code Section 58.253 provides that the state automatically seals juvenile records if the person meets the following requirements:

  • The person is at least age 19
  • No adjudication occurred after any misdemeanor or felony referrals
  • If adjudicated for a misdemeanor offense only
  • No pending delinquent conduct matter
  • Has not been certified to stand trial as an adult
  • No convictions of a misdemeanor or felony punishable by confinement in jail as an adult
  • No pending charges as an adult for a misdemeanor or felony offense punishable by confinement in jail

What are the requirements to apply to seal juvenile records in Texas?

The Texas Juvenile Justice Code Section 58.256 allows the juvenile court to order records sealing for anyone meeting the following criteria:

  • The person is age 17, or if younger than 17, at least one year has passed since the date of final discharge from the Juvenile Probation Department, and is accompanied by a parent or guardian at the hearing
  • No delinquent conduct matters pending with any Juvenile Probation Department or Juvenile Court
  • Has not been certified to stand trial as an adult
  • Has no felony convictions as an adult
  • Has no pending charges as an adult for misdemeanor or felony offenses punishable by confinement in jail.
  • Did not receive a determinate sentence adjudication
  • Is not currently required to register as a sex offender
  • Was not committed to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department unti the person has been discharged from that commitment

How do you apply to seal juvenile records in Texas?

An experienced juvenile attorney at Varghese Summersett will complete and file the correct paperwork. The application must be filed with the Tarrant County District Clerk’s office at 2701 Kimbo Road in Fort Worth.

Are gang or sex offender records confidential for Texas juveniles?

The Texas Department of Public Safety holds gang information, and these records are limited to criminal justice officials for law enforcement purposes.

Juvenile sex offender records are exempt from the restricted access system. But if your court-appointed obligation to register as a sex offender expires, you might have the right to have your records sealed.

Texas DPS Reviews Juvenile Records for Sealing

Since 2015, Texas DPS has overseen which juvenile records are eligible for sealing. In some cases, a prosecutor may object to the sealing and request a hearing. In that event, a notice would be sent to the owner of the sealed record, who would have the chance to make a case for sealing their records. DPS can share Texas juvenile records with the following:

  • Military, with permission of juvenile
  • Criminal justice agency
  • Noncriminal justice agency if authorized by federal law or executive order to receive
  • Juvenile justice agency
  • Texas Juvenile Justice Department
  • Office of Independent Ombudsman
  • Court exercising jurisdiction over a juvenile
  • Department of Family and Protective Services for background checks for placement Purposes

Need a Texas juvenile record sealed or destroyed? Call us.

If your child qualifies, having a Texas juvenile record sealed or destroyed might be necessary. This process requires a hearing, and an experienced attorney will help you get the desired outcome. Call Lisa Herrick for a free consultation at 817-203-2220.

Varghese Summersett

What is juvenile certification in Texas?

In Texas, juveniles can be certified to stand trial as an adult if they are accused of serious crimes, such as murder or aggravated sexual assault. The decision to seek certification is up to the juvenile prosecutor handling the case and must be granted by a juvenile judge after a hearing.

If the judge agrees to certify a juvenile to stand trial as an adult, the case will be transferred to adult criminal court. Once a case has been transferred, the minor will be tried as an adult and subject to the adult criminal justice process and the penalties associated with that offense. 

However, there are a few caveats regarding certified juveniles. In the adult system, an adult convicted of capital murder faces either the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. By law, certified juveniles convicted of capital murder face an automatic life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Likewise, certified juveniles convicted of certain sex crimes are not required to register as sex offenders for life. The maximum sex offender registration requirement for certified juveniles is 10 years.

Juvenile Defense Lawyer Fort Worth | Board Certified Juvenile Defense

Juvenile Certification in Tarrant County and the Surrounding Areas

The juvenile justice system is designed to handle minors who get in trouble with the law, focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment. However, in rare instances, prosecutors will seek to transfer juveniles to adult criminal court, especially if the alleged offense is violent or high-profile. This process is known as juvenile certification and is not taken lightly.

This article will discuss the basics of juvenile certification and when a minor can be tried as an adult in Texas. We will also explain what happens to teens who are certified to stand trial as an adult in Tarrant County. 

Who qualifies for juvenile certification if you are under age 18?

Under Section 54.02 (a) of the Texas Family Code, to be eligible for juvenile certification, the offender must be:

  • at least 14 years old and under age 17 at the time he or she is alleged to have committed the offense and charged with capital murder, an aggravated controlled substance felony, or a first-degree felony; or
  • at least 15 years old and under age 17 at the time he or she is alleged to have committed the offense and charged with a state jail felony or a second or third-degree felony; and
  • the defendant has not been adjudicated.

Who qualifies for juvenile certification if you are age 18 or over?

Under Section 54.02 (j) of the Texas Family Code, to be eligible for juvenile certification if you are 18 years old or older, the offender must have been:

  • at least 1o years old and under age 17 at the time he or she is alleged to have committed capital murder or murder; or
  • at least 14 years old and under age 17 at the time he or she is alleged to have  committed an aggravated controlled substance felony or a first-degree felony other than murder; or
  • at least 15 years old and under age 17 at the time he or she is alleged to have committed a state jail felony or a second or third-degree felony; and
  • the defendant has not been adjudicated.

Finally, for someone 18 or older to be certified, the judge must find probable cause to proceed and find by a preponderance of the evidence:

  • It was not practical to proceed in juvenile court before the 18th birthday of the accused – for reason’s beyond the state’s control; or
  • The state exercised due diligence before the accused’s 18th birthday but could not proceed because new evidence was found after their 18th birthday; the accused could not be found; or there was a previous transfer order that was reversed or set aside.

Who decides if a juvenile should stand trial as an adult?

The District Attorney’s Office decides whether to seek juvenile certification. If prosecutors decide to seek certification, they will file a petition with the juvenile court seeking a “waiver of jurisdiction.”

In other words, the prosecution is asking the juvenile court to waive its jurisdiction over the juvenile and transfer the case to an adult criminal district court. The juvenile court then holds a transfer hearing to decide whether or not to certify the juvenile to stand trial as an adult.

What happens before the transfer hearing?

Before the certification (or transfer) hearing, the court will order a complete diagnostic study, social evaluation, and investigation of the juvenile, including his or her circumstances and the circumstances of the offense.

At least five days before the hearing, the court will provide the prosecution and defense access to all written material that the court will consider in making its decision.

What happens at the transfer hearing?

All juvenile certification hearings are presided over and decided by a juvenile court judge, not an associate judge or magistrate. Likewise, a jury does not decide juvenile certifications.

As with other criminal court proceedings, there will be a prosecutor and a defense attorney in the courtroom  – both of whom will present evidence and make arguments. The prosecutor will work to have the juvenile transferred to the adult system, while the defense will fight to keep the teen in the juvenile system.

The juvenile defendant will also be present in the courtroom, along with his or her parent or guardian. If a parent or guardian cannot be there, the court will appoint a guardian for the juvenile.

How does the judge determine whether a juvenile under 18 should be certified to stand trial as an adult?

When considering certification, the juvenile court judge must first determine that there is probable cause that the youth committed the offense. The court must also believe that because of the seriousness of the alleged offense or the background of the child, the welfare of the community requires proceedings in adult criminal court.

In addition to the above criteria, the juvenile court must consider four other factors:

  1.  whether the offense was against a person or property (crimes against people are generally more serious);
  2. the sophistication and maturity of the child;
  3. the record of the child in the juvenile justice system; and
  4. public protection and the child’s likelihood of rehabilitation within the juvenile system.

It’s important to point out that the factors in this list are not criteria that have to be met – but merely factors that the judge has to consider. In other words, the judge has to consider these things, but he or she can base their decision on something else entirely.  It is purely within the judge’s discretion to transfer the child or not.

At the end of the hearing and after considering all of the evidence and weighing all factors, the judge will decide whether to certify the juvenile to stand trial as an adult. If the certifies the youth, the case will be transferred to the adult system for prosecution. If the judge denies the prosecution’s request for certification, the juvenile will remain in the juvenile system.

What are some possible defenses to certification?

An experienced juvenile defense attorney will do everything possible to try and convince the judge that the teen would be better served in the juvenile justice system and that the case should not be transferred to adult court.  Some common defenses include:

  • Highlighting the positive aspects of the child and his or her background;
  • Presenting mitigating evidence, such as disabilities or mental health issues;
  • Pointing out the child’s lack of previous criminal record;
  • Showing progress in the juvenile system;
  • Demonstrating the child is amenable to rehabilitation;
  • Showing a strong support system;
  • Arguing that the child is too unsophisticated for the adult criminal justice system;

These are just some possible defenses that could be implemented to try and convince the judge to deny certification. If you or your child is facing juvenile certification proceedings in Texas, it is crucial that you have an experienced juvenile defense attorney on your side to fight for the best possible outcome.

What happens if a juvenile is certified to stand trial as an adult?

If the juvenile court judge decides to certify a child to stand trial as an adult, he or she will be transferred out of the juvenile system and into the adult criminal justice system. The juvenile will then go through regular adult court proceedings and, if convicted, will be subject to adult sentencing.

What happens if a juvenile is certified to stand trial as an adult in Tarrant County?

If a juvenile is certified to stand trial as an adult in Tarrant County, his or her case will be transferred out of the juvenile system to the adult criminal justice system. The case will be assigned to a District Court in the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in downtown Fort Worth, where it will go through the same process as all adult criminal court cases.

Will the juvenile be housed with adult inmates in Tarrant County Jail?

The juvenile court judge who certified the youth may order the child to be held in the adult jail, but he or she won’t be housed with adults until age 17. Or, the judge may order the child to remain in juvenile detention, housed with the rest of the juveniles, until age 17.

What if a person is an adult by the time they are arrested for a juvenile offense?

In some cases, a person is arrested as an adult for an alleged offense committed years ago as a juvenile. In these cases, the adult – meaning over age 18 – will be certified to stand trial as an adult after a routine transfer hearing. Adults are not prosecuted in the juvenile system.

What’s the difference between adult prisons and juvenile prisons in Texas?

In Texas, adults sentenced to prison are remanded to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Juveniles are committed to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), the state’s juvenile penal system.

TDCJ is responsible for housing adult offenders while serving sentences ranging from a few months to life in prison. TJJD, on the other hand, is responsible for providing rehabilitation and treatment services to juvenile offenders to help them get their lives back on track. Teens still behind bars after their 19th birthday can be transferred to adult prison.

Facing juvenile certification in Tarrant County? Contact us.

Lisa Herrick

Learn about Board Certified Juvenile Specialist Lisa Herrick

If your child has been accused of a serious felony in Fort Worth or the surrounding area, it’s imperative that you contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney. Attorney Lisa Herrick is a partner at Varghese Summersett and board certified in juvenile law – a designation held by only three attorneys in Tarrant County.

Lisa specializes in juvenile law and has handled every type of juvenile criminal case, including capital murder, murder, sexual assault, and other violent felonies. She is the juvenile attorney who parents and families turn to when a child faces the biggest problem of their life.

Call 817-203-2220 today to schedule a free consultation.