You’re home waiting for your high school teenager to get home after a night out with friends at a school event. Your phone rings and your child tearfully tells you that she’s at a police sub-station under arrest for a misdemeanor offense. What do you do? What will happen to them?
First, you must know that your 17-19 year old is considered an adult under Texas law and will be treated like an adult. Then, remain calm and do not judge them – you don’t know the evidence yet. Re-assure them that you will be working on their release. Tell them to be courteous to the police and to tell the police with all good manners that they want to speak with a lawyer before answering their questions. The police must stop questioning at this point.
Call a reputable bail bondsman and arrange for bail if you can afford to do so. You may need to travel to a bonding office, so prepare for a long night. The bondsman will track your child’s location in the system and arrange for their release. Your teenager may be released at the police station if they were arrested with a small amount of marijuana under the DA’s new “catch and release” marijuana policy. In other cases, in the near future, under new bail reforms your they may be released at the police station on personal recognizance if charged with one of several low-risk offenses. If the offense is more serious, they will be taken to the Harris County Jail to appear before a hearing officer who may release them on personal recognizance, or set an appropriate bail amount. They will then call you to pick them up.
Bring your teenager back home and resist the temptation to lecture. They are afraid, tired and bewildered by this process. Get them cleaned up, fed and make sure they get some rest. You can talk in the morning when nerves are less frayed and everyone is hopefully more rested.
Contact an attorney as soon as possible and try to retain them with your teenager present. You may be asked to leave the room while they talk to ensure attorney-client confidentiality that enables the lawyer to more effectively represent them. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will likely be appointed on the first court setting if your teenager can establish indigency (your family’s income is within 125% of the federal poverty guidelines).
A court date is printed on the bail bond or release forms given to your teenager and you should calendar this right away and make sure your they get to court on time and properly dressed. Then and in the several settings that may follow, your teenager’s lawyer will help her evaluate the evidence in the case to decide whether to proceed to trial, seek a dismissal or plea bargain.
The court and staff will be courteous and provide a fair place to resolve the case, with several programs available to resolve cases without trial. These range from dismissal with a completed class, therapy or restitution payment; pre-trial intervention or diversion (not a conviction, and record wiped clean (expunction) is possible when successfully completed), deferred adjudication (not a conviction, community supervision, and non-disclosure order possible, but no expunction when successfully completed; regular probation (conviction with community supervision, and usually no jail); and last, a jail sentence, fine or both. There may be other collateral consequences to the case your attorney can explain.
Throughout this process I encourage you to be supportive of your teenager, refrain from being judgmental, and provide a home atmosphere conducive to a successful defense or disposition of the case. Please be assured that our courts rely on evidence-based probation practices tailored to suit your child’s individual needs. We will work together towards a just result for all involved.
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Judge Jay Karahan is currently the judge for Harris county Criminal Court-at-Law Number 8. He attended Florida State University and graduated with an honors degree in Music Theory and a certificate in vocal performance and graduated with a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the South Texas College of Law in Houston. You can read more about Jay HERE.