Differences in Criminal Justice Procedures between Adults and Juveniles

While primarily designed for and most commonly encountering adult offenders, the criminal justice system of the United States maintains a number of distinct differences in handling the juvenile offenders that it encounters to a small but distinct lesser frequency.  This paper will seek to delineate several of the key differences between criminal justice procedures for adult offenders and juvenile delinquents with emphasis on legal issues in the State of Texas.

For the purpose of criminal laws in Texas, juveniles are considered as those who have reached their tenth birthday but not yet reached their seventeenth birthday after which they are considered adults.  Juvenile offenders are further divided into status offenders and children in need of supervision.  Status offenders are juveniles whose offenses would not be criminal but for their status as a juvenile, such as school truancy or nighttime curfew violations.  Children in need of supervision are juveniles who engage in delinquent conduct, other than traffic offenses, that are punishable by imprisonment or confinement in jail regardless of age (Texas Family Code, 2011).  Whereas other states may allow otherwise (Ottawa University, 2011), Texas law prohibits the custodial interrogation of a juvenile offenders unless the juvenile has first been advised of his or her rights under the Miranda and In Re Gault rulings (Texas Family Code, 2011).  Juveniles who are apprehended by law enforcement must be separated from adult offenders by sight and sound (Ottawa University, 2011) and may only be held at a police station or designated juvenile processing center for six hours before being released to a parent/guardian or transferred to a secured juvenile detention center (Texas Family Code, 2011).  In addition, while juveniles apprehended for delinquent conduct may be locked in a designated holding cell juveniles apprehended for status offenses must be held in a non-secured multipurpose room during processing (Texas Family Code, 2011).

Depending on the severity of a delinquent offense, juveniles may be tried in court and sentenced as if they were adults.  While the specific procedures may vary from state to state, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Kent v. United States (1966) that the essentials of due process must be provided to a juvenile while determining whether or not to transfer a juvenile criminal case to the adult criminal justice system (Ottawa University, 2011).  In Texas this transfer can be made by the juvenile court if the juvenile committed a felony offense, was at least fourteen years of age at the time of the offense for aggravated offenses or was otherwise at least fifteen years of age at the time of the offense, and there is probable cause to believe that the welfare of the community requires criminal proceedings.  Prior to the proceedings the juvenile court must conduct a full investigation, social evaluation and diagnostic study of the child and during the proceedings the court must consider the sophistication of the juvenile, the juvenile’s previous record, and the likelihood of the juvenile’s rehabilitation through the juvenile justice system.  The juvenile courts in Texas can also waive their exclusive jurisdiction over an offense committed as a juvenile if the juvenile turned eighteen prior to legal proceedings (Texas Family Code, 2011).

A number of differences remain even if the case is not transferred from the juvenile justice system to that criminal justice system.  Two prevailing philosophies in the treatment of juvenile offenders include an increased focus on rehabilitation and a decreased focus on removal from the community and family.  Depending on the circumstances, juvenile courts more frequently order mandatory counseling as a part of probation conditions, may give orders affecting the juvenile offender’s parents and/or other family members, and may monitor and enforce school attendance and participation (Texas Family Code, 2011).  The goal, of course, is to rehabilitate and educate the juvenile offender in effort to prevent him or her from becoming an adult offender.


Ottawa University.  (n.d.).  PLS-3000 Weekly Materials, Week 6: Police and the Juvenile Justice System.  Retrieved on April 13, 2011, from http://ottawa.blackboard.com/.

Texas Family Code.  (n.d.).  Title Three: Juvenile Justice Code.  Retrieved on April 15, 2011, from http://law.justia.com/codes/texas/2005/fa.html.

© 2011 – 2014, Jeremy Liebbe. All rights reserved.

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About the author

Jeremy Liebbe holds a Master of Science in Forensic Psychology, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Police Science, and is currently completing a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. He has over a decade of law enforcement investigative experience as a detective sergeant with experience including narcotics, crimes against children, and homicide investigations. As a result of his expertise in complex criminal investigations and forensic mental health Jeremy has earned numerous commendations, lectured throughout Texas and in several other states, authored and co-authored over a half dozen published papers, and has provided expert testimony in over a dozen felony trials.