Deferred Prosecution For Juvenile Offenders in Texas
In Texas, a person age 17 or under is considered a juvenile and is subject to juvenile law. The main goal of the Texas juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate, not punish. As such, juveniles are shown much more leniency than adults. First-time juvenile offenders in particular are granted the most leniency when faced with criminal charges.
Every county in Texas has some type of probationary program for juvenile offenders. Such programs typically require the child to complete a specified period of probation to avoid formal adjudication. The applicability and requirements of these programs varies by county, but they all have the same goal---rehabilitate the child by showing leniency. The most commonly used program is deferred prosecution.
Deferred Prosecution is authorized by Texas Family Code §53.03. It allows a juvenile to avoid prosecution by completing a specific period of probation. Under §53.03, deferred prosecution is only available in cases where the state has probable cause to believe the child has committed an offense. This means that deferred prosecution is NOT available in cases where the State has insufficient evidence to support a finding of guilt.
A juvenile may be placed on a period of deferred prosecution by the probation department, the prosecutor, or the juvenile court. The process and requirements for placing a juvenile on deferred prosecution depends on who is initiating the deferral.
- Probation Department: The probation department may place a child on deferred prosecution if doing so would be in the best interest of the child. The child and parents must voluntarily consent to defer prosecution, but they may terminate the deferral at any time and go to court. Under TX Family Code §53.01, most offenses are eligible for deferral by the probation department except felonies and misdemeanors involving violence or weapons. The department may set the length of probation for six months or less, depending on the offense.
- Prosecutor: TX Family Code §53.03 authorizes a prosecutor to defer prosecution in any case, including felonies and misdemeanors involving violence or a weapon. However, the prosecutor may not grant deferred prosecution for certain alcohol-related offenses. The prosecutor can either directly grant deferred prosecution, or send the case to the juvenile probation department for deferral. In either case, the prosecutor has much more discretion than the probation department in determining when to grant deferred prosecution.
- Juvenile Court: The juvenile court can grant deferred prosecution in any case except for certain cases involving alcohol-related offenses. The court can grant deferred prosecution on its own, or the child may ask the court to grant it. If the child asks for deferred prosecution, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether the deferral should be granted. The outcome of the hearing depends on the evidence presented by the child’s representative. Evidence of mitigating factors such as good grades, employment, and participation in extracurricular activities will be considered by the court.
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