In Texas, a juvenile conviction can be used to enhance the punishment for a subsequent adult conviction under certain circumstances. This is known as “prior conviction enhancement.”
Under Texas law, if a person is convicted of a felony offense and they have previously been convicted of a felony as a juvenile, the prior juvenile conviction can be used to enhance the punishment for the current adult offense. This means that the person will receive a harsher sentence than they would have otherwise received.
The rules for using a juvenile conviction to enhance an adult sentence are outlined in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Specifically, the rules are contained in Article 42.12, Section 5(a) and (b).
Under these rules, a juvenile conviction can be used to enhance an adult sentence if the following conditions are met:
- The juvenile conviction was for a felony offense.
- The adult offense for which the person is being sentenced is a felony.
- The person was at least 17 years old at the time the juvenile offense was committed.
- The person was at least 17 years old when the adult offense was committed.
- The person was not finally discharged from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court for the juvenile offense before the person reached the age of 25.
If all of these conditions are met, the person’s prior juvenile conviction can be used to enhance their sentence for the current adult offense. The specific amount of the enhancement will depend on the nature of the juvenile and adult offenses and the person’s criminal history.
But aren’t all juvenile records sealed automatically in Texas?
In Texas, anyone who has been referred to juvenile court for conduct occurring before the age of 17 has a juvenile record. These referrals may be for delinquent conduct, such as Class A or B misdemeanors or felonies, or for conduct indicating a need for supervision (CINS), which includes class C misdemeanors, offenses that would not be illegal for adults, and specific offenses like “sexting”. These records are maintained by probation, law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, and the Juvenile Justice Information System (JJIS) database maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Juvenile records in Texas are generally confidential and can only be accessed by certain individuals or agencies with a legitimate need for the information. This includes criminal and juvenile justice agencies, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) and the Ombudsman for TJJD, courts with jurisdiction over juveniles, the Department of Family and Protective Services for certain background checks, and the military (with the juvenile’s permission). Noncriminal justice agencies may also have access to the records if allowed by federal law or executive order. If a juvenile’s records are sealed, they can only be accessed with a court order under certain circumstances. Entities that provide occupational licenses are not able to access information in the JJIS database, whether or not the records are sealed.
In most cases, juvenile records in Texas are automatically sealed when the juvenile reaches the age of 18 or 19, depending on the circumstances of their case. However, if a juvenile was adjudicated for a felony or does not meet the criteria for automatic sealing, they may file an application to have their records sealed with the court. This process is open to juveniles who are at least 17 years old and who do not have any adult felony convictions or pending adult charges, are not required to register as sex offenders, and are not currently committed to the TJJD. The court may hold a hearing to decide whether or not to seal the records.
There are some situations in which a juvenile’s records cannot be sealed in Texas. This includes cases where the juvenile was certified to stand trial as an adult or received a determinate sentence, cases where the juvenile is required to register as a sex offender, and cases where the juvenile was committed to the TJJD. Juvenile records related to Class C misdemeanors in justice or municipal court may be eligible for expunction, but are not eligible for sealing.
In general, law enforcement agencies do not have access to sealed juvenile records. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if a juvenile has been convicted of a crime that is punishable by life imprisonment or death, their record may not be sealed and may be made available to certain government agencies and law enforcement. And records in the gang database may not be sealed, but can only be shared with criminal justice agencies for criminal investigation or prosecution purposes. Additionally, if a juvenile has been convicted of a sexual offense, their record may not be sealed and may be made available to certain government agencies and law enforcement.
It’s worth noting that even if a juvenile’s record has been sealed, law enforcement may still be able to access certain information about the juvenile’s past if it is relevant to an ongoing investigation. For example, if a sealed juvenile record contains information that is relevant to a current criminal investigation, law enforcement may be able to obtain a court order to access that information. However, this would typically only be done in rare and exceptional circumstances.
Also, it may be possible to expunge a juvenile’s record, which means that the record is destroyed and is no longer available to anyone, including law enforcement. In order to be eligible for expunction, the juvenile must meet certain requirements, such as not having been convicted of a crime that is punishable by life imprisonment or death.
It’s worth noting that expunction is not available in all cases and is typically granted only in exceptional circumstances. If you are interested in expunction, you may want to consult with an attorney who can assess your eligibility and help you through the process.
In Texas, you may be eligible to expunge your juvenile records if you meet the following requirements:
- You were arrested, but not charged with an offense, or you were charged with an offense but were later found to be innocent.
- You were charged with an offense, but the case was dismissed.
- You received deferred adjudication for an offense and successfully completed your community supervision (probation).
- You were convicted of an offense that is classified as a Class C misdemeanor and you have not been convicted of any other offense since the date of your conviction.
- You were convicted of an offense that is punishable by confinement in jail or prison, but you received a suspended sentence and have not been convicted of any other offense since the date of your conviction.
Expunction is not available in all cases and is typically granted only in exceptional circumstances. If you are interested in expunction, you may want to consult with an attorney who can assess your eligibility and help you through the process.
For more information on this topic, consult Chapter 58 of the Texas Family Code and Chapter 45 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, both available here: www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us.
And remember, It’s important to note that the rules for using a juvenile conviction to enhance an adult sentence in Texas are complex and can be difficult to understand. If you have questions about how a juvenile conviction might affect your adult sentence in Texas, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney.