Two significant decisions by appellate courts in Texas last month may signal a change in the way courts certify juvenile defendants to be tried as adults. In one of the cases, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the murder conviction of a Deer Park man who had been sentenced to 30 years in prison for a shooting he allegedly committed at the age of 16.
In the second case, the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston overturned the conviction of a defendant who had been sentenced to eight years in prison for an armed robbery he allegedly committed when he was 16 years old. In both cases the appeals courts said the juvenile judges did not provide adequate reasons for certifying the teens to be tried as adults. In fact, the courts noted that the judges simply filled in blanks and checked boxes on a form certification order.
The goal of the juvenile justice system is supposed to be rehabilitation, not punishment. The reason we have separate courts and separate procedures for juveniles is because it is inherently unfair to make people spend the rest of their lives paying for violent or bad behavior as a teenager.
When a child or teenager is accused of a serious crime, the first goal of a defense attorney is to make sure the case stays in juvenile court where it belongs. That way the young person has a chance to turn his or her life around - a chance they are unlikely to get if they are tried as an adult and sent to state prison. The two recent decisions send a message to juvenile court judges and prosecutors that certifying a child to be tried as an adult will require more compelling reasons than those that have sufficed in the past.
Source: Odessa American, "Teens tried as adults have convictions overturned," Jan. 3, 2015