Bexar County Juvenile Justice System : Differences from the Adult Criminal Justice System

In our last blog entry on the Texas Juvenile Justice System, we introduced the basic purposes behind Texas juvenile justice. The San Antonio and greater Bexar County Juvenile Justice System possesses several distinct differences from the Texas Adult Criminal Justice System. The first major difference is the actual language or terminology used with the Texas juvenile system.

The juvenile equivalent of an adult criminal trial is known as ”adjudication”, but it is important to note that the Juvenile Justice Code clearly states that an adjudication is not a conviction. Whereas adult offenders must deal with vocabulary like “arrest, bail, bond, indictment, conviction, and sentence”, Texas juveniles have an entirely different set of terms. San Antonio juveniles can be “detained, referred, released from detention, adjudicated, and either placed on probation or be completely separated from their home”. The actual allegation against the juvenile is a civil petition, not a criminal indictment. Whereas adult records are subject to expunction, juvenile records are “sealed”.

The next major difference between a juvenile offender and an adult offender in Bexar County is the wider array of procedural options available to a juvenile under the Texas Juvenile Justice Code. In a criminal allegation against a juvenile, the alleged crime is classified as either “delinquent conduct” or “conduct in need of supervision”. Delinquent conduct is that conduct which violates a penal law and is punishable by jail. Conduct in need of supervision (CINS) generally includes less serious legal violations and certain types of non-criminal conduct, like violations of school conduct policy.


Law enforcement has several choices upon completion of a juvenile criminal investigation. They can either refer the case to a prosecutor or to juvenile services. After the referral, there are four (4) possible paths the juvenile may take leading to disposal. The first path is supervisory caution or deferred prosecutions which are known as informal adjustments under Sections 53 and 59 of the Texas Family Code. This is the most favorable option and it is the option San Antonio juvenile criminal defense lawyers try to obtain for their clients.

The second option is referral to criminal court under section 54 of the Texas Family Code. For example, if the child is over 14 years old and is suspected of a capital felony or a high level drug offense, the child may be transferred to criminal court. it is important to note that any juvenile over 15 may be tried as an adult if the case is transferred to adult criminal court.

The third option is reserved for juveniles with mental illness. Under Section 55 of the Texas family Code, commitment proceedings may be initiated for those juveniles with mental illness.

The fourth option is an adjudication hearing similar to a criminal trial, which is conducted under the auspices of section 54 of the Family Code.

The San Antonio juvenile justice system can be daunting, which is why a Texas juvenile criminal defense lawyer is needed to help you and your child navigate the system. The overarching theme of the system is actually rehabilitation, which is not something the adult criminal justice system is necessarily focused on.

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