Children in Texas can be tried in adult criminal court under a waiver statute that permits the transfer of a juvenile to adult court after a hearing is conducted by a juvenile judge. Tex. Fam. Code § 54.02. On October 31, 2012 the First Court of Appeals in Houston heard a case challenging the transfer of a child, C.M. The decision of the Court is pending.
When C.M. was only 16 years old, he was alleged to have committed a murder. Normally the juvenile court hears cases for children under 17 years old. However, the prosecutor in this case asked the judge to transfer the case to adult criminal court. The hearing to determine if transfer is appropriate requires several factors about the child to be considered. The judge in C.M.’s case failedo follow the statute’s requirements for a transfer hearing, specifically the diagnostic study requirement. The judge ordered, but did not receive or examine a diagnostic study of C.M. Despite this, the judge still transferred C.M. to adult criminal court. C.M. was later found guilty in adult court. Today, C.M. is 20 years old and incarcerated.
The First Court of Appeals has a heavy burden in making this important decision. First, the justices have to decide if the original transfer hearing was properly conducted. The Center for Children, Law & Policy feels it is impossible for the transfer hearing to be found proper considering that the Texas waiver law requirements were not met. Next, the justices must determine what would be the appropriate remedy for this defect.
The Center for Children, Law & Policy firmly believes vacating C.M.’s conviction, as his attorneys are requesting, is the only appropriate outcome. The Court’s decision affectsmany other Texan children facing transfer to adult criminal court. For example, Harris County transfers an average of 78 children a year to adult criminal court. The Center for Children, Law & Policy believes all children should have their cases heard in juvenile court. We eagerly await the Court’s ruling.
C.M. is represented by:
Jack G. Carnegie of Strasburger & Price, LLP, John L. Hagan of Jackson, Gilmour & Dobbs, Christene Wood of Thompson Coe Cousins & Irons, and David Adler.
The Center for Children, Law & Policy has submitted to the First Court of Appeals a supplemental amicus brief in support of C.M. We offered this additional information to help guide future policy for similarly situated juveniles facing transfer to adult court, especially here in Harris County, which has extraordinarily high rates of transfer to adult court.