The Juvenile Court Process: Detention Hearings

Who determines if a child will be held for a detention hearing before a judge? What factors are considered?

When a child is arrested and taken to the detention facility, an intake officer will determine if the child needs to be detained and brought before a judge, or if the child can be released to his or her parent or guardian on conditions of release. There is a presumption of release before the child is brought before a judge, but there are a number of factors that the intake officer will consider, including the child’s court history, the severity and circumstances of the offense, general information about the child’s family, and whether or not the child is believed to pose a danger to him/ herself or the community. Under the law, the intake personnel shall release the child administratively (without a detention hearing before a judge) unless there are concerns for the child’s safety or supervision or if there is a chance that the child might flee the area and not reappear for court. If a child is released administratively, the supervising adult must agree to return the child to court for later proceedings.


Note: if the child is alleged to have engaged in delinquent conduct involving a firearm, the child will be detained until either a detention hearing is conducted or the court authorizes the release of the child. Whether or not the child is released or detained, the intake officer will make diligent efforts to contact the parent or guardian of the child and let the significant adult in the child’s life know what the child was arrested for, and whether or not the child will be released or detained.


If the intake officer decides to detain a child, the child will be held for a detention hearing. If the intake department decides to release a child to a parent or guardian, then the parent can pick up the child at the detention facility. A child who is released will be released on conditions of release.


What is the purpose of the detention hearing?

The detention hearing has one purpose and one purpose only – to determine whether or not a child will be held at the Juvenile Detention Facility or if the child will be released. It is not a hearing to decide whether or not a child actually did the act s/he is accused of doing. By law, an initial detention hearing after a child is arrested must be held within certain timelines, depending on what the child is accused of doing. For a child who is alleged to have engaged in delinquent conduct (meaning that they are alleged to have committed a crime), they must have a detention hearing no later than the second working day after the child is taken into custody (e.g., if the child is arrested on Monday, his/her detention hearing must be held by Wednesday). If, however, a child is taken into custody on a Friday or Saturday, the detention hearing must be held on the next working day. Holidays, when the court is not in operation, do not count as working days.


 Who is present at the hearing? Who speaks?

The detention hearing is held before a judge. The child’s parent will be contacted ahead of time by the probation department and asked to attend the hearing. The judge will ask the child if they wish to have an attorney represent them at the detention hearing.


 Probable cause.

The first thing that usually happens at an initial detention hearing is a determination by the judge whether or not probable cause exists to detain the child. Anything the child says during the hearing can only be used to determine if probable cause exists. In the vast majority of cases, the judge will find that probable cause did exist. If there is no probable cause (this is incredibly rare), the child should be released.


 Detention decision.

In addition to the probable cause determination, the Court still needs to decide whether to release or detain the child. The rest of the detention hearing will be devoted to this decision. A representative of the probation department will be to offer a recommendation to the Court regarding whether or not the child should be detained or released. The prosecutor may also make a statement regarding the State’s position about whether or not the child should be detained. The parent/guardian is also allowed to speak at the hearing. Often, a judge will ask the parent how the child behaves at home and what the child’s living arrangements are in order to help determine if the child should be released or detained while the case moves forward.

A child may speak at a detention hearing, but s/he does have the right to remain silent. Whether the child should speak and what the child should say is another issue. Practically speaking, many judges do want to hear from the child at the detention hearing to get a feel for his/her attitude, to get a sense of what’s going on at home, at school, etc. While technically speaking, what the child says in a detention hearing cannot be used against him/her for any other purpose than that particular detention hearing, in reality, it is important to remember that an attorney for the State is present, listening to everything the child and parent say. This gives the State “free” information about what happened from the child’s perspective if s/he talks about the incident leading to arrest. It is helpful to consult an attorney to decide what, if anything should be said during the hearing.


 What factors into the judge’s decision to detain or release the child?

The law favors releasing the child unless there are specific concerns that suggest that detention is necessary. In “real” terms, the judge is going to look at the child’s (and, quite frankly, the parents’) behavior at home. The judge is also likely to consider the child’s school status and behavior. The probation officer or the intake worker may contact the school the child attends prior to the detention hearing to determine if the child is attending school regularly, if s/he is having discipline problems at school, and how s/he is performing in terms of grade standing and grades. Mental health issues and drug and alcohol use, frequent runaway and repeated violence or other dangers all figure into whether or not a judge will release a child at the detention hearing. Sometimes, the severity of the offense alone may be enough for a judge to order that a child remain detained, at least temporarily, while more information is gathered about the case.

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