Currently trending in the news is the debate of increasing the criminal age in Texas from age 17 to age 18. Texas law charges 17-year-olds as adults, even though they cannot vote or join the military. With the state at odds with a federal law governing the housing of juvenile prison inmates, as well as being docked about $800,000 in funding last year, some are pushing to raise the age of criminal defendants classified as adults to 18.
Legislators from both parties have long criticized Texas’ law, although there do exist defenders of the current practice of trying 17-year-olds as adults (mostly out of touch Republican politicians). Many states are more aggressive in treating juvenile offenders as adults amid a jump in youth crime since the 1980s. Subsequent research in brain development, a drop in crime, and series of Supreme Court rulings have led many states to modify their treatment of juvenile offenders.
Juvenile Offenders in the U.S.
Today, 41 states automatically treat those younger than 18 accused of crimes as juveniles, although a judge can decide in certain cases that a minor should be charged as an adult. Texas currently charges 17-year-olds as adults, along with 6 other states. New York and North Carolina treat those 16 or older as adults under certain circumstances.
The juvenile offender laws in Texas are highlighted in the case involving Jason Wang and Johnny Truong, who were part of a gang that dressed as utility workers and held a suburban Dallas homeowner at gunpoint, stealing $68,000 in cash, electronics and jewelry. Although both were minors at the time of the offense, the law treated them differently in Texas. Wang was 15 and Truong was 17. Wang was convicted and sent to juvenile detention, while Truong went to prison.
Jason Wang and Johnny Truong were charged with aggravated robbery, which, under the Texas Penal Code, occurs when a person commits a robbery and he causes serious bodily injury to another, uses a deadly weapon, or causes or threatens bodily injury to someone who is age 65 or older or disabled. A robbery is theft with the intent to obtain or maintain control of the property and intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing or threatening bodily injury.
Aggravated robbery is a felony in the first degree. The punishment for aggravated robbery can be a maximum of 99 years or life in prison, and not less than 5 years in prison or a $10,000 fine.
Texas youths ages 10-16 enter the therapy-rich juvenile system. Seventeen-year-olds are imprisoned in adult facilities designed to punish criminals. Juvenile convictions are sealed while adult convictions are not, which greatly impacts a criminal defendant’s ability to secure employment post-conviction. In Texas there are two separate courts and rules that govern the juvenile process.
The juvenile courts generally make every effort to rehabilitate the child offender rather than punish him/her. Only in extreme cases, such as serious felonies, will a juvenile be tried as an adult and only after the juvenile has been certified as an adult. In such extreme cases, the juvenile’s case is transferred to the adult court system. The transfer of cases is evaluated based on the severity of the offense, the criminal sophistication of the child offender, any prior criminal record, and any prior attempts to rehabilitate the child.
Let Us Help You Today
If you are a juvenile offender in Texas, you need to understand your rights. If you are charged with a criminal offense in Galveston or surrounding areas, contact The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates. Our attorneys can assist in your defense and explain the potential consequences as a juvenile offender.
Sentence Capped at 40 Years for Murder
Jurors imposed a 40-year sentence on a Texas man convicted in a childhood arson attack on a boy who died nearly 13 years later. Defendant Don Collins was sentenced for pouring gasoline on then 8-year-old Robert Middleton, and setting him on fire. The event occurred in 1998, and prosecutors indicate it was meant to silence the boy after Collins sexually assaulted him.
Collins was convicted of capital murder, and his punishment was capped at 40 years because he was 13 at the time of the attack. The jury heard testimony that Collins was a troubled child, along with prior alleged sexual assaults.
Treatment of Juvenile Offenders
According to Texas Penal Code Section 8.07 a person may not be prosecuted for or convicted of any offense that the person committed when younger than 15 years of age, subject to exceptions. Subsection (c) of the same statute states that “no person may, in any case, be punished by death for an offense committed while the person was younger than 18 years.”
When the burning occurred in 1998, a juvenile had to be at least 14 years of age for a capital felony offense case to be transferred to adult court. In 1999 the law changed to lower than age 10. Prosecutors said the crime of murder did not occur until 2011, when the victim died. Experts determined that Middleton’s death from skin cancer was a direct result of the injuries he suffered in the fire.
Determinate sentencing for juvenile offenders was approved by the Texas legislature in 1987 as an alternative approach to lowering the age at which a juvenile may be certified to stand trial as an adult. Originally the law provided that juveniles charged with capital or first-degree felony offenses may receive sentences as long as 30 years. In 1995 the legislature amended the length of sentencing to a maximum of 40 years.
In Texas, capital murder occurs when a person intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual and that individual in under the age of 10. The events that caused Middleton’s death occurred in 1998 after the legislature amended the punishment for juvenile offenders. Although the defendant was an adult when the sentence was imposed, because the crime occurred when he was a juvenile the sentencing for juveniles applied.
Adolescent decision-making is subject to immaturity, peer pressure and heightened attitudes toward risk. Adolescents make choices that are less responsible than those made by mature adults in similar situations. Although children may know right from wrong, their inability to consistently make responsible decisions makes them less blameworthy than adults. This is why criminal statutes reflect different punishments for children convicted of criminal offenses.
Of course, if a child is accused of a crime, it is important that his or her parents reach out to a skilled criminal defense attorney. Everything from helping you get your child out of the detention facility on Atwater in Texas City to trying your child’s case on 59th Street in Galveston at the courthouse. The Galveston criminal defense lawyers at the Law Office of Tad Nelson & Associates can assist clients throughout the Galveston area and mount a solid defense on your behalf.
Increasing Juvenile Criminal Age to 18