Judges weigh benefits of juvenile detention vs. jail

Bexar judge: 17 too young to be automatically tried as adult

In Texas, 17-year-olds are automatically treated as adults. One local judge thinks that's still too young.
In Texas, 17-year-olds are automatically treated as adults. One local judge thinks that's still too young.

Bexar County District Court Judge Laura Parker said a lot of factors are considered when a judge certifies a minor to stand trial as an adult.

"There would be testing done, there would be a probation report done and you would look at the seriousness of the offense," Parker said.

Kids 10 and older can be charged with the same crimes as adults, but unless they are 14 or older and certified as an adult, their case would be handled under the juvenile justice system.

In Texas, that changes at age 17, when teens are automatically treated as adults.

Texas is in the minority. In the majority of states, that doesn't happen until age 18.

"There's been studies that show being locked up leads to recidivism," Parker said.

Parker has met with legislators who are considering proposing a bill in the next session that would keep 17-year-olds from automatically being tried as adults.

"It's very difficult for them to cope when they are in an adult atmosphere like that and with a lot of hardened criminals," Parker said. "The suicide rates are much higher than what they are in juvenile facilities."

Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Latimer said the primary focus of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation.

"There's a lot of emphasis on social studies, evaluation studies, placement studies, and community service hours," Latimer said.

"It would give us an opportunity to work longer with the kids in the juvenile justice system which has better outcomes than the adult system," Parker said.

She also makes the point that 17-year-olds may have to live with a lifetime blemish on their record because once you're convicted as an adult, you can't get your record sealed.

On average, about 6,000 juveniles are charged with felonies each year in Bexar County.

Click here to see how that compares to felony charges in other major counties in Texas.

For a list of recent stories April Molina has done, click here.

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