Juvenile Vs. Criminal Law

By Martin Miller

The fundamentals of the two systems of justice — juvenile and criminal law — can be found principally in three different Texas codes. The juvenile system is outlined in the Texas Family Code, and the criminal system can be found primarily in the Texas Penal Code and the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

The two systems have basic similarities, including the right to receive Miranda warnings, the right to be free from self-incrimination, the right to an attorney during critical court proceedings and plea bargaining, the right to a jury at the delinquent/not delinquent or guilty/not guilty stage of a trial, the requirement that the state prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, pretrial detention, community supervision (probation), community service hour requirements and restitution when appropriate.

Differences in the two systems mainly exist because of the distinction in their purposes. The juvenile system’s principal function is to protect and rehabilitate a delinquent child, while it can be argued that the main goal of the adult systems is to punish a guilty offender.

Even the terminology created for the juvenile system is one based on civil rather than criminal standards. A juvenile is referred to as a respondent, not as a defendant. A juvenile is alleged to have committed a delinquent act rather than a criminal offense. A juvenile is generally not charged by an indictment or information; he or she is brought before a juvenile court by the filing of a petition. A juvenile is not arraigned in court at his or her first appearance, but is instead held to appear for a detention hearing. While a juvenile is detained and adjudicated, an adult is arrested and convicted.

Age determines the jurisdiction of a juvenile court while the type of offense determines the jurisdiction of a criminal court. Juvenile court procedures are usually informal and may be held privately, while criminal court procedures are more formal and open to the public. Identifying information about a juvenile, as a rule, cannot be released to the media, while information about an accused adult offender is considered public information. In the juvenile system, parents/guardians are encouraged and sometime required to be involved in their child’s rehabilitation, but not so in the adult system. A juvenile may be released into the custody of a parent/guardian while an adult will typically be required to post bail.

Under most circumstances, a juvenile’s adjudication/disposition records will be eligible for sealing, while for an adult there are only limited circumstances in which an expunction or order of non-disclosure may be granted. A juvenile who is certified as an adult cannot be sentenced to death for a capital offense that occurred before the juvenile was 18 years of age. Finally, the juvenile court’s main objective is to focus on the best interests of the child in determining what services or protections are needed to benefit the juvenile, while the criminal court generally focuses on invoking a punishment proportionate to the crime.