It is important to understand When is a Texas juvenile eligible for a deferred prosecution!

What is Deferred Prosecution?

Deferred prosecution is contemplated by sanction level two of the Progressive Sanctions Model, which states a child may be placed on a period of deferred prosecution by: (1) the probation department, (2) the prosecuting attorney, or (3) the juvenile court. Like other forms of diversion, deferred prosecution is an alternative to seeking a formal adjudication, but one that entails a specific period of informal probation  usually six months. Deferred prosecution is authorized by Section 53.03 of the Texas Family Code. A careful reading of this section is the first step in understanding this process.

The Family Code requires that before a child is placed on deferred prosecution, there n Texas, each county determines how its pretrial diversion programs will be administered. The details of these programs will vary greatly from county to county, but there are two general diversion programs utilized by most counties: the First Offender Program and deferred prosecution. This article will focus on deferred prosecution. must be a finding of probable cause that the child has engaged in delinquent conduct or conduct indicating a need for supervision. Deferred prosecution should not be used for cases the State clearly cannot prove in court.

How Do Cases Become Eligible Referral to Deferred Prosecution – By Juvenile Probation Department

Subject to certain restrictions, the probation department may place a child on deferred prosecution if the following three conditions apply:

1. Deferred prosecution would be in the best interests of the public and the child;

2. The child and the parent know that consent to participate is voluntary; and

3. The child and the parent understand they may terminate the deferred prosecution at any time and go to court.

The probation department may not defer prosecution for a case requiring forwarding to the prosecutor under Section 53.01(d) of the Texas Family Code. This section requires the forwarding of felonies and misdemeanors involving violence or weapons, unless the county juvenile board adopts an alternative forwarding plan. Additionally, the probation department cannot defer prosecution for a child who has previously been adjudicated of a felony, even if the current referral is for an offense not requiring forwarding, unless the prosecutor’s consent is obtained in writing. The probation department can set the length of deferred prosecution for a reasonable period of time not to exceed six months.

How Do Cases Become Eligible Referral to Deferred Prosecution – By Prosecuting Attorney

The Family Code empowers the prosecutor with the ability to defer prosecution for any child and in any case except for certain alcohol-related offenses. This often occurs when the probation department forwards cases to the prosecutor and the prosecutor determines that although probable cause exists, proceeding with the case formally is not necessary. The prosecutor can return the case to juvenile probation for “further proceedings.” At this point, probation may place the child on deferred prosecution for a felony or misdemeanors involving violence or weapons, as an agent for the prosecutor. Theoretically, the prosecutor can also overrule the probation department’s decision not to send a case to deferred prosecution it could have sent. Whether or not this happens practically in any given county will depend on the relationship between probation and the prosecutor’s office.

How Do Cases Become Eligible Referral to Deferred Prosecution – By Juvenile Court

Prior to 2003, it was a little unclear whether the juvenile court had the power to place a child in deferred prosecution. Section 53.03 of the Texas Family Code spoke only to the allocation of authority between the probation department and the prosecutor. Nothing in Section 53.03 precluded the court from sending a case to deferred prosecution and certainly Section 59.005 of the Texas Family Code contemplated the court having this power, but still it was ambiguous. In 2003, the Texas Legislature cleared up this ambiguity by specifically stating the juvenile court can defer prosecution at any time before:

1. The jury is sworn in a jury trial;

2. The first witness is sworn in a bench trial; and

3. The child pleads true or agrees to a stipulation of evidence.

Essentially, the court must place the child on deferred prosecution before jeopardy attaches to the case. Placing a child on deferred prosecution after jeopardy attaches would be a mistrial and a new prosecution would be prohibited.

The court may grant deferred prosecution for all cases, except for the alcohol-related offenses prohibited by Section 53.03(g) of the Texas Family Code. The court may grant deferred prosecution on its own motion, but usually a child will have to ask the court for a hearing to decide whether the deferred prosecution should be granted. This hearing may be conducted by formal presentation of evidence or may be conducted by the parties making professional representations to the court concerning the case and the child’s background. Finally, the court can add to a previous order of deferred prosecution so long as the combined period does not exceed one year.

What are some things a lawyer can do to help his juvenile client get a deferred prosecution?

Preparation for obtaining deferred prosecution begins at the time the lawyer meets the client. The groundwork for a positive outcome is laid by gathering all the information you can about the delinquent act at issue and the client.

Is this a first referral?

Are there any mitigating factors, extenuating circumstances, or subsequent displays of remorse?

How is the client’s behavior at home?

How is the behavior at school?

Does the client make good grades or participate in extracurricular activities?

Are there any mental health considerations?

Have there been any changes in the client’s environment since the referral?

Are the parents doing all they can to properly supervise?

Is it possible the complaining witness would support deferred prosecution?

The lawyer must focus on anything and everything a prosecutor or judge would want to know before deciding to grant deferred prosecution. Accentuate the positive, but do not ignore the negative. Dealing with harmful information early can have a significant impact on whether deferred prosecution will be granted. Finally, gather any documentation that reflects positively on the client and supports the arguments for deferred prosecution. The following are examples of documents you might want to obtain:

A positive report card;

Letters from teachers, coaches, and others in support of the client;

Paperwork confirming the client’s participation in extracurricular activities;

Proof of employment, such as a work schedule;

Special education or mental health records;

A letter from a service provider showing that the client has already begun services or successfully completed them in the past; and

A letter from the client apologizing for the behavior and expressing commitment to change and make restitution.

Part of a lawyer’s preparation for obtaining deferred prosecution will include preparing the client. This might involve advising the client on how to have positive interaction with decision makers or helping the client to fulfill obligations or goals. Advise the client to notify the lawyer immediately if there are any problems complying with court orders or the demands of parents and service providers. Whenever the lawyer learns of a problem, he must help the client come up with a solution. The lawyer must take the time to explain to the client the importance of improving behavior and the connection behavior has to the objective. Monitoring the client’s behavior before a final decision is made will help avoid some mistake that might ruin any chance of the decision being favorable. Once all the information has been gathered, the client must be prepared, and the lawyer must put together the needed arguments and begin persuading.