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Juveniles and Criminal Culpability: A Research Guide

A guide to researching Texas and national "raise the age" law and legislation. Created by Shelby Sterling, Texas A&M University School of Law, for the Summer 2017 Texas Legal Research Practicum.

Federal Law & Legislation

One considerable issue of raising the age of criminal culpability is that it must be implemented state by state because each state has individual criminal justice systems. The federal government may enact laws that generally must be followed by each state; however, if a state chooses not to abide by the new federal law, the likely consequence is a threat to decrease or end certain federal funds to the state. The federal government has created two specific laws that provide guidelines and structure to the juvenile justice process; however, Texas has not fully abided by these laws.

1. Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA)

This federal law provides funds to states that adhere to the “core protections” on the care and treatment of youth in the justice system. Further, these “core protections” require that youth be sight-and-sound separated from adult inmates in any facility or be housed in separate facilities than adult inmates. Unfortunately, the downside to this act is that these protective provisions do not apply to youth who are prosecuted in the adult criminal system. The vague and open-ended language of this law provides the opportunity for states to determine the age of juvenile jurisdiction, which has led to a common discrepancy across the nation. All information regarding the JJDPA can be found on the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s website here.

2. Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA)

             Enacted to deal with the sexual assault of prisoners, this federal law addresses the issues of sexual assault and victimization in all facilities that may house youth including lockups, prisons, and other detention facilities. The federal government also enacted the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (PREA Commission), which was created to advise the Department of Justice to set and implement national standards regarding sexual abuse in detention facilities. The PREA Resource Center, which is a central source for information on PREA, can be found here.

Texas Law & Legislation

Some may find it surprising, but Texas juvenile justice laws are within the Family Code. Juvenile criminal laws affect various additional codes; nonetheless, there is not one specific location for all statutes controlling juvenile laws. Due to the substantive amount covered across multiple codes and sections, this guide will aid in navigating Texas statutes.

            1. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. Tit. 3, Ch. 51-61, Juvenile Justice Code

Each chapter of this Title details different topics concerning juveniles and the justice system. Section 51.01 states the purposes of the Juvenile Justice Code as to provide and be consistent with the public and public safety; provide care and protection for children coming within its provisions; to protect the welfare of the community; achieving the foregoing purposes within family environments when possible; and provide simple judicial procedure through which the provisions of this title are to be executed. In addition, Section 51.02 provides definitions to pertinent terms within this title of the Code. The Family Code can be viewed and searched for free on the state website here, by using a Google search, by navigating Lexis or Westlaw, or by using a print source.

            2. Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Ann. Art. 45.0492, Community Service in Satisfaction of Fine or Costs for Certain Juvenile Defendants 

This section illuminates the alternative option for juvenile offenders to discharge all or part of the fines or costs by performing community service.

             3. Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Ann. Art. 45.057, Offenses Committed by Juveniles

This section lays out additional definitions applied in this Title in addition to listing and detailing information regarding offenses committed by juveniles. While this does not directly list all of the individual offenses, it provides descriptions of what a justice or municipal court may do in situations involving juveniles.

            4. Tex. Hum. Res. Code Ch. 244, Care and Treatment of Children

This chapter falls under Title 12. Juvenile Justice Services and Facilities. This chapter outlines the care and treatment of children within secure facilities. It illuminates on the entry and exit procedures that should be implemented when a juvenile offender enters and exits a secure facility.

Many additional statutes involve juvenile offenders such as statutes within the Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Education Code, the Transportation Code, and the Health and Safety Code. Each of these codes would have been amended had the bills to raise the age passed during the 84th and 85th legislative sessions.

Legislative History

H.B. 1205, 84th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2015): As the only “Raise the Age” bill to pass the House in the 2015 Session, HB 1205 was the biggest leap in reform for juvenile justice and raising the age of criminal culpability throughout the state. If this bill had passed into law, all of the statutes previously mentioned would have been amended. This would have raised the age of criminal culpability from 17 to 18-years-old. Unfortunately, this bill did not pass. A bill analysis discussing the proposed changes can be found here.

S.B. 1630, 84th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2015): Originally authored by Senator John Whitmire, this bill would allow juvenile offenders who committed lesser crimes to be placed in regional facilities closer to their homes. As a last ditch effort after H.B. 1205 failed, Representative Gene Wu attempted to add a component to S.B. 1630 that would raise the age of criminal culpability. Unfortunately, because this bill already held great significance, it was passed into law only after the raise the age component was removed.

H.B. 122, 85th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2017): As the newest attempt to raise the age, H.B. 122 gained significant support and quickly passed the House of Representatives. While the goal of this bill was ultimately to raise the age, Representative Dutton summarized the bill contending that by raising the age, young individuals adjudicated in the juvenile system would experience far better outcomes than those who are sentenced in the adult criminal system. Although support had been accumulating over the last two years, the Texas Senate left this bill in the dust ultimately leaving this topic for supporters to argue in the future. A bill analysis discussing the proposed changes can be found here

Case Law

Although Texas is known as a leader for juvenile justice reform, it continues to lack the ability to align with federal law. Federal case law on juvenile offenders continues to be the guiding light for reform across the nation. The Supreme Court has issued opinions for four major cases in the last fifty years. This guide will highlight these cases that have helped shape the reform of juvenile justice systems across the nation. To read more cases on juvenile justice and the age of criminal culpability, please consider the search terms and topic/key numbers listed below and adjust the search accordingly. You may also find references to other federal and Texas cases cited or located in the footnotes in the cases listed below.

After pursuing a general search from secondary sources and reading relevant statutory provisions, reading and understanding the cases highlighted below will assist in gaining adequate knowledge on juvenile justice and the age of criminal culpability.

These cases can be found in various places, both in print and online. For many, Westlaw, Lexis, the Texas Courts website, the United States Supreme Court website, and other free sites all provide full-text access. 

Helpful Search Terms

Juvenile justice                                  Juvenile crime                   Raise the Age  

Criminal culpability                             Delinquency

Helpful Westlaw Topics and Key Numbers

211 Infants

XV. Juvenile Justice (k2441-k2460)

(G) Disposition > In General 2662 Factors and Considerations in General

XVI. Rights and Privileges as to Adult Prosecutions

Major Case Law

In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967)

As the first significant landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, this case established that juveniles accused of crimes in a delinquency proceeding must be afforded many of the same due process rights as adults, such as the right to counsel, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to confront witnesses.

Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)

This is a SCOTUS case that resulted in the Court adopting a rationale that the punishment of youthful inmates must not be excessive. After looking at each state’s perspective on the use of the death penalty for juvenile offenders, the Court determined that the American society reflected an opinion that juveniles are categorically less culpable than an average criminal. Further, the Court listed three reasons for why juveniles are less culpable than adults. Ultimately, the Supreme Court banned the death penalty as a possible punishment for any offender who commits crimes before turning eighteen-years-old.

Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010)

Following Roper, SCOTUS continued to narrow the procedures and punishments of prosecuting juvenile offenders. In Graham, the Court established that no state shall sentence any juvenile, nonhomicide offender to life without the possibility of parole. The Court supported this decision based on the culpability of juveniles, the severity of the sentence, and the justifications for the sentencing of life without the possibility of parole.

Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012) 

The latest SCOTUS decision affecting juvenile justice, the Miller decision aligns with the decision in Graham. In Miller, the Court stated that mandatory sentencing schemes of life without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders violates the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause. This decision does not completely prohibit life without the possibility of parole for juveniles; however, it requires that a judge or jury have the opportunity to consider mitigating factors prior to imposing the harshest possible sentence to youthful offenders.