What Happens If My Child Gets Felony Charges in Texas?

Juvenile Felony Charges in Texas

As a parent, few phone calls bring sheer dread, like learning your teenager faces felony charges. Whether from a school fight, party, or poor choice hanging with older kids, even one mistake can mean life-changing consequences.

Navigating the complex juvenile justice system feels overwhelming. Can they really charge my child as an adult? Will a conviction ruin their future? What about rehabilitation?

This guide aims to bring clarity, walking through precisely what happens when a juvenile gets hit with serious criminal offenses in Texas. We’ll demystify the process, sentencing realities, and strategies parents can take while answering the critical question – how much will this derail my child’s path?

Texas Juvenile vs. Adult Justice Systems

First, let’s distinguish how juvenile courts and law enforcement handle youth infractions differently than adult defendants.

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department governs cases for offenders under 17. Juvenile courts emphasize rehabilitation amidst punishment.

Judges can assign community supervision with counseling, boot camps focusing on discipline and education, and psych evaluations guiding parole terms.

Meanwhile, the adult criminal system takes a more punitive stance, with little flexibility on sentencing ranges for convictions carried out in prisons and jails.

So when does the line blur between the two systems?

Blurry Line on Certification as an Adult

The option rests with prosecutors to “certify” juveniles as adults for trial depending on offense severity. In Texas, youths age 14 and up face this possibility.

Statistically, most certifications involve violent crimes like murder, sexual assault, aggravated robbery, and severe assaults. But factors like criminal history, weapons use, or gang-related activity also play a role.

In our experience, certification remains likely even for first-time young offenders charged with extremely violent felonies. Once in adult court, the focus shifts solely to punishment rather than rehabilitation.

Breaking Down Levels of Juvenile Felony Charges

Capital Felonies

In Texas’ four-tiered felony classification system, capital felonies like murder or manslaughter during kidnapping sit at the top. Maximum sentences can include life in prison without parole or even the death penalty.

First Degree Felonies

Next come first-degree felonies—severe violent crimes like aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14. These can bring 5 to 99 years in prison. Repeat offenders may get a life.

Second and Third-Degree Felonies

This covers a wide gamut of weapon, property, drug, and violent crimes with wide-ranging outcomes. Second-degree felony sentences run from 2 to 20 years. Third-degree sentencing can result in sentences between 2 and 10 years.

Many carry a chance of probation for first offenses. But in juvenile court, judges tend not to use the full adult sentencing range even when convicting youths at trial.

Navigating the Juvenile Court Process

If retained in juvenile court after the detention hearing and charges get filed, the next step is the adjudicatory trial and sentencing. Witnesses testify, and prosecutors aim to prove offenses “beyond a reasonable doubt,” like the adult court.

If convicted, sentencing depends on whether the crime allows “determinate” vs. “indeterminate” punishment.

Determinate means a precise prison stay between 2 to 20 years before parole eligibility. Indeterminate leaves wide latitude on when to release an offender back into juvenile supervision post-incarceration.

Alternative Defense Strategies Can Lessen Punishment

Rather than leave a child’s fate to chance, retaining legal counsel experienced in the juvenile system proves vital when facing serious allegations.

Defense attorneys aim to secure pre-trial diversion programs with charges dismissed following completion. We also craft arguments negotiating reduced charges or probation-only sentences.

In certain cases for young, first-time offenders, we’ve even had violent felony charges lowered to misdemeanors. This avoids incarceration and lessens long-term collateral damage.

What Happens After Sentencing and Incarceration?

If probation or diversion programs don’t apply, incarceration lasts either until age 18 or much longer. Counseling and education programs aim to rehabilitate. But challenges continue upon release.

Parole restrictions may apply along with required drug tests or geographic check-ins. Many victims also seek restitution payments as additional redress.

Ongoing registration as a sex offender becomes mandatory for related convictions—severely limiting where offenders can live and work.

And while records can be sealed in certain cases after turning 19, violent offenses often still show in background checks—hindering college, jobs, and military acceptance.

Key Takeaways for Parents Facing the Crisis

For moms and dads blindsided by shocking felony allegations against their son or daughter, practical next steps must be prioritized amidst the emotion.

These include:

  • Seeking Legal Counsel – Trying to personally make sense of the intricate juvenile system only hurts your child’s case. Retaining an attorney experienced specifically in juvenile defense cases remains essential. Providing this lifeline for your son or daughter lets them focus energy on rehabilitation.
  • Considering Counseling – Rather than chastise further, explore family counseling focusing on core influences behind choices made and better decision-making strategies. Maybe problems existed you never fully noticed. Face this crossroads together.
  • Emphasizing Accountability – Once the legal process concludes, reinforce your teen assuming responsibility for actions, not playing the victim. Make following all parole and court requirements a prerequisite for daily privileges.

The path ahead will challenge your family deeply. But many resources exist in Texas for advice and rehabilitation programs to lessen long-term collateral damage from errors made in adolescence. Avoid hopelessness.

Meet with a Juvenile Defense Lawyer Today

At Whalen Law Office, our team brings decades of combined experience specifically defending juveniles. We’ve secured pre-trial diversions, charge reductions, and probation terms and minimized incarceration across hundreds of cases.

If your child now faces the terrifying prospect of felony convictions in Texas’ complex system, please reach out today. Let our juvenile defense lawyers guide you through this crisis so healing can begin for all.

Call or contact us online to schedule your case review.

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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