For the first time, Texas appeals courts have overturned the convictions of two teenagers tried as adults, ruling that the juvenile courts did not provide enough evidence to explain why the youths were “certified” as adult defendants.Basically Harris County was using a check-box form that allowed the judge to avoid making findings specific to the individual:
Juvenile justice advocates and some lawmakers say the two cases, both from Harris County, show that it’s past time to examine how the state pushes defendants under 17 into the adult criminal justice system. Critics say this practice, known as certification, follows a pro-forma, rubber-stamp process.
the decisions noted the Harris County juvenile court did not give sufficient evidence as to why the youths in question should stand trial as adults. Instead, it relied on a “form order” process that allows judges to check off boxes and fill in the blanks for each certification, rather than give a detailed explanation for why a defendant was mature enough, and how a crime was egregious enough, to warrant trial in the adult criminal justice system.And here are a few data from the story on adult certification:
The number of juvenile certifications statewide has dropped in recent years, from 248 in 2008 to 209 five years later. Harris County experienced one of the biggest drops — from 78 to 29 over that same period — a shift some chalk up to a combination of increased pressure on the three juvenile judges and a greater emphasis by some to take more time on certification cases.See earlier Grits coverage and a recent Ted Talk on the subject by the LBJ School's Michele Deitch.
Smaller counties in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere on the Texas-Mexico border have seen a recent increase. Where Harris County’s certification rate stood at 7.4 for every 100,000 juveniles in 2013, the rates in Val Verde and Starr Counties were more than 200 times that.