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Criminal procedure

juvenile court

A juvenile court—also known as a young offender’s court—is a special court that handles criminal proceedings against minors—usually a child age 17 or younger, but in some states a child age 16 or younger, or age 15 or younger. Juveniles who are accused of violating a criminal statute against theft, drug use, drug possession, assault, disorderly conduct, underage drinking, truancy (skipping school), and curfew violations are often handled by juvenile courts. Juvenile dependency cases in which the state seeks to remove minors from a troubled home environment (when they are abused or neglected by their parents or guardians) are also handled by juvenile courts. But more violent offenses such as aggravated assault, rape, murder, and robbery are less likely to be prosecuted in juvenile court.

Cases in juvenile court are civil proceedings rather than criminal proceedings. This is significant because in juvenile court minors are charged with committing a delinquent act (a civil matter) rather than being charged with a criminal act. In juvenile court, juveniles do not have all of the Constitutional rights as an adult in criminal court does (such as the right to a jury trial), but police, prosecutors, and court officials have broad discretion in handling the case and giving the juvenile a second chance.

In Texas, the juvenile court system handles cases involving minors who are typically under the age of 17, as Texas considers individuals 17 years or older to be adults for criminal purposes. Juvenile courts in Texas deal with delinquency matters, which include crimes ranging from theft to disorderly conduct, as well as dependency cases where child welfare is concerned. While juvenile courts in Texas focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment, serious offenses such as aggravated assault, rape, murder, and robbery can be transferred to adult court depending on the circumstances and the age of the offender. Proceedings in juvenile court are civil, not criminal, which means juveniles are adjudicated for delinquent conduct rather than being convicted of crimes. They do not have the right to a jury trial in the same way adults do, but they are entitled to other procedural protections. The juvenile justice system in Texas emphasizes individualized treatment and rehabilitation, with a variety of outcomes possible, including probation, diversion programs, and commitment to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department for more serious offenses.

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