ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – One week ago, an Abilene 13-year-old was charged with murder after he and three other teens were involved in a stolen car crash that turned fatal, leaving a lot of lingering questions about what will happen to the young suspect in court due to his age.
KTAB and KRBC sat down with Chief Juvenile Probation Officer for Taylor, Callahan, and Coleman counties Allison Stafford, who explained what a juvenile could face during the justice process.
Stafford says that the juvenile justice system in Texas typically has jurisdiction over children ages 10 to 17, with some exceptions being made for teens up to the age of 19. Children under the age 10 cannot be charged with a crime in Texas.
Once an age-appropriate offender is charged with a crime, the juvenile justice system gets to work determining the best path to reach its goals of keeping the public safe while rehabilitating the offender and keeping their best interests in mind.
“Our goal is to help these kids become employable, addiction-free, law-abiding citizens and rehabilitated back into our community,” Stafford explains.
Juvenile offenders can be charged with a wide range of crimes, such as misdemeanors, felonies, or even Capital Murder, but that doesn’t mean there is automatically potential to prosecute a juvenile as an adult.
To be tried as an adult in the State of Texas, a juvenile offender must be at least 14 years of age and have committed a violent offense against another person, such as murder, aggravated robbery, or sexual assault.
However, even meeting those qualifications doesn’t mean the adult system automatically steps in – the juvenile justice system, alongside the District Attorney’s Office, looks at a variety of factors beyond the severity of the charge, such as the offender’s previous history and how the offender’s incarceration is serving the public before making a decision on if the offender will be tried as an adult.
As soon as law enforcement takes a juvenile offender into custody, the juvenile justice department conducts an investigation then the District Attorney’s Office decides how to file the charges.
Meanwhile, the juvenile offender is held in a detention facility without bond, having preliminary hearings every 10 days to determine if they should remain behind bars or be released to the care of a guardian.
A juvenile probation officer will make a recommendation to keep a juvenile offender behind bars for one of the following reasons:
1. They are likely to abscond
2. They are a danger to themselves or others
3. They do not have suitable supervision or they do not listen to their supervision
4. They were previously adjudicated for a crime
If the officer finds probable cause to hold the offender, then the first preliminary hearing is held within 48 hours of the initial arrest.
If a juvenile is tried as an adult, they will face a judge and/or jury, who will decide punishment based on the Texas Penal Code, which means they could face up to life in prison or even the death penalty depending on the crime.
However, juveniles being tried in the juvenile justice system are typically only facing a maximum sentence of 40 years.
If the child will turn 18 (or 19 in some cases) during their incarceration in the juvenile justice system, then a hearing would be held around their birthday to determine if they could be let back into society on probation or if their incarceration would transfer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
All details of juvenile crimes are sealed to the public until the offender is an adult, then a court will decide if the record can be expunged.
Some crimes, like violent offenses, are harder to get expunged than others, even for juvenile offenders.
The 13-year-old charged with murder in connection to last week’s crime spree and crash in Abilene already had an initial detention hearing, where a judge decided he should be held for at least the next 10 days.