R. Todd Bennett, P.C.
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What do parents need to know about the juvenile justice system?

Finding out that your teenager is in legal trouble is hard for parents. There are often many uncertainties that creep up. Understanding the juvenile justice system in Texas can help parents who are facing this situation.

Whether your child is facing a case for delinquent conduct or a status offense, there are some specific points that you should remember. These can help you to make decisions as you navigate a system you hoped you'd never have to encounter.

What are delinquent conduct and status offenses?

Delinquent conduct encompasses things that are illegal for adults and children. These delinquent actions can lead to a jail or prison sentence. Some actions that can get juveniles in trouble wouldn't get an adult into legal trouble. These are known as status offenses, and they include things like running away from home or truancy. They are also known as "conduct indicating a need for supervision."

Who is a juvenile?

The juvenile justice system typically includes children from 10 to 17 years old. A person who is 17 or older can remain in the juvenile justice system for an offense that occurred before their 17th birthday. Once a person turns 18, the juvenile justice system will typically lose the authority to handle matters. Sometimes, children under 10 need the assistance of the juvenile court. The court can provide services for children as young as 7. However, kids under 10 can't face prosecution.

What might happen at the hearings?

Hearings occur before a judge. Juvenile cases are never heard in front of a jury because other juveniles, who are the peers of the teens, can't make the life-altering decisions required of a jury. The judge will determine how to help the minor. This can include offering services to the child and their family while the child remains at home. It can also involve spending time in juvenile detention, being placed on probation and a host of other options.

Who does the attorney represent?

One of the most challenging things for parents to remember in these cases is that the attorney represents their child. Even if the parent pays the bill, the final case decision falls in the hands of the juvenile. Often, the parent works closely with the child and the attorney. However, the lawyer will likely defer to the teen if there is a disagreement about the direction of the case.

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