juvenile justice

Sexual Assault Allegations Lead to Calls for Closure of Texas Juvenile Lockups

By Peek & Toland on May 8, 2018

If you are a young person charged with a serious crime in Texas, you will be facing some serious scenarios. While 17-year-olds are treated as adult offenders in the state, Texas juvenile lockups are also under fire following sexual assault allegations.

In the wake of a conviction and numerous arrests linked to recent sexual misconduct cases at a Texas lockup for minors, campaigners are calling for the state’s leadership to shut down all state-run secure facilities for youths.

The Texas Tribune detailed a letter sent to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus requesting they set up a joint legislative committee to look into the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. The juvenile justice campaigners are calling for the closing down of the state’s five juvenile lockups.

The letter followed the publication of a memo obtained by The Dallas Morning News that highlighted allegations of sexual misconduct at the Gainesville State School.

Texas juvenile lockups have been hit by a series of scandals in recent years.

The most recent one relates to the conviction of guard Samuel Wright, and the arrests of three women at the Gainesville facility.

Texas juvenile lockups are under fire

Texas juvenile lockups face criticism

The lockup is in a rural area more than 70 miles north of Dallas. Wright was sentenced to 10 years in prison in July 2017 for improper sexual activity with a youth being held at the facility, according to the memo. The women were arrested in 2017 on claims they were having sexual relationships with committed minors.

A grand jury declined to indict a fourth female guard on the same charges. The memo also referred to a case in 2016. It noted the lockup suspended a psychologist who emailed pornography to his work computer to encourage a minor to masturbate in front of him.

The Texas juvenile justice system has been hit by allegations of misconduct over a long period of time.

The letter was cosigned by the directors of Texas Appleseed, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texans Care for Children, the and the American Civil Liberties Union.

It called for the closure of juvenile lockups, stating:

“Texas taxpayers are currently footing the bill for a costly, defective model that does not promote public safety and is inhumane. There is only one solution: the remaining state secure facilities must be closed.”

If you are charged with a crime as a juvenile, it’s important to do everything possible to stay out of incarceration. An experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer can vigorously fight your case. Call us at (512) 474-4445.



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Concerns Mount over Juvenile Life Sentences Without Parole

By Peek & Toland on February 6, 2018

The practice of juveniles serving life prison sentences without parole has come under fire from the U.S. Supreme Court. Nevertheless, a dozen state prison inmates in Texas are serving juvenile life sentences.

A report on KWTX stated none of these inmates has asked for a new sentence, despite a ruling by the nation’s highest court.

Justice Anthony Kennedy penned a majority opinion of the Supreme Court that said states may no longer sentence juveniles to life without parole under the Eighth Amendment’s “bar against cruel and unusual punishment.”

Juvenile life sentences spark fears

Concerns over juvenile left sentences

Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, confirmed Texas has 12 inmates who were under 18 when they committed crimes who are serving life sentences without parole. He said:

 “As far as I know none of them has asked for a new sentence and it’s something they have to do.”

Back in 2012, the high court ruled a life without parole sentence given to a defendant convicted of capital murder who was under 18-years-old when the crime was committed is unconstitutional. An inmate serving such a sentence is entitled to a new punishment hearing.

A subsequent ruling in 2016 rendered the 2012 opinion retroactive. There are about 2,500 inmates in the United States jailed in juvenile and benefit from no parole. The Innocence Project has taken a stance on the issue. It states:

“The United States stands alone as the only nation that sentences juveniles to life without parole for crimes committed before turning 18.”

Josh Rovner, a writer for The Sentencing Project, said in a recent article.

“Following the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama, states and the federal government are required to consider the unique circumstances of each juvenile defendant in determining an individualized sentence.”

Judges are obliged to consider the unique circumstances of each juvenile offender. Mandatory life sentences without parole were banned. The decision was made retroactive four years later.

KWTX reported of the 12 qualifying inmates in Texas, 10 were sentenced following trials in Harris County, one in Dallas County and one in Bexar County.

Ashley Ervin is the only woman in the group. She is time at the Hilltop Unit, in Gatesville.

In Texas, a number of aspects of the juvenile justice system are coming under fire including the fast-tracking of young offenders to the adult justice system.

A conviction at a young age can destroy your future. Call our Texas criminal defense firm for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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How Texas is Fast-tracking Juvenile Offenders to Adult Jails

By Peek & Toland on April 20, 2017

The process by which Texas transfers juveniles into the adult system has been almost routine in past years. However, the fast-tracking of juvenile offenders is under fire.

Recently, Houston Public Media highlighted the case of Miguel Navarro. He was just 15 when he stabbed a 20-year-old during a fight at a party at Katy in Texas. The man died of his injuries.

The Houston Public Media report pointed out the stabbing took place during a confused fight. Nararro and his older brother were abused for being Hispanics and attacked by the older group at the party.

Navarro was arrested and charged with murder the morning after the party. He was from an impoverished background and his family relied on a court-appointed defense attorney.

Juvenile offenders are being fast-tracked to adult jails

He was advised by his court-appointed attorney he would be treated leniently in an adult court due to his youth. The tactic backfired. Navarro was sentenced to 99 years.

Navarro is now 24. He has been behind bars since he was a teenager. The Houston Public Media report made it clear what happened to Navarro was no anomaly when it comes to juveniles tried as adults in Texas.

Navarro’s case will be heard by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. A recent case sheds new and disturbing light on how easily juveniles are transferred to adult courts in Texas.

In the 20 years from 1995 to 2015, more than 5,200 teens were certified as adults in the state.

Navarro researched the facts in prison. He found the case of Cameron Moon, another teen from Texas who was tried as an adult.

The Impact of the Cameron Moon Case on Juvenile Offenders in Texas

The case of Cameron Moon v. State of Texas, led to a change in the way juvenile offenders are treated in Texas. The Court of Criminal Appeals found a standardized procedure was used to transfer Moon, who was indicted for murder when he was 16, to the adult courts.

The Court of Criminal Appeals heard arguments from Moon’s lawyer that the juvenile court abused its discretion in waiving jurisdiction.

The juvenile court failed to provide a specific statement detailing reasons for the waiver.

Moon’s attorney said the juvenile court misunderstood and misapplied the factors it was meant to consider in whether to waive jurisdiction. The conclusions the juvenile court reached about Moon’s sophistication and maturity were not supported by the evidence.

The Court of Criminal Appeals said the evidence the juvenile court used related to assess Moon’s sophistication and maturity was inadequate. The court said the evidence used to support the findings about the protection of the public and the likelihood of Moon’s rehabilitation was also flawed.

Unlike the adult system, the juvenile justice system has an emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders.

The Moon decision led to new legislation and has meant waivers to adult courts can no longer be rubber stamped. An upsurge in appeals is likely.

If you are a juvenile who has been charged with a serious crime, you will likely to face an adult court. A conviction at a young age can ruin your future. Call Peek & Toland for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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