The number of juveniles certified as adults in Houston’s Harris County has surged 25 percent this year to 36, the highest level since 2013, even though the number of juveniles arrested during the same period has declined, reports the Houston Chronicle. The increase has left judges, prosecutors, and advocates torn between trying to keep children in the juvenile justice system while faced with evidence that youthful offenders may, in some instances, face more leniency in the adult system. The risks are high for young defendants. Probation is common for teens in adult court, but so are are life sentences, and serious offenses can bring a lifetime of consequences.
Advocates for juveniles have long criticized the certification process, saying it often is applied arbitrarily and can mean juveniles are sent to adult jails to wait for trial. Because they must be segregated from adults, youths spend their days and nights in de-facto solitary confinement. Juveniles as young as 14 years old can be certified as adults for any felony criminal charge, though prosecutors generally seek certification for crimes involving violence or weapons. Once in the adult system, juveniles often fare better than adults with judges. Their cases tend to be less violent, giving them a better chance at probation or deferred adjudication, a form of probation in which the charges eventually are dismissed if the probationary term is completed without incident. “It’s extremely common for a juvenile to get certified on an armed robbery and end up with a deferred adjudication,” said defense attorney JoAnne Musick, an expert in juvenile law.