Proposed Bill in Texas Legislature Would Decriminalize Truancy, Refer Cases to Civil Juvenile Court

Ralph_Hedley_The_truant's_log_1899.jpgA bill that would remove criminal penalties for failure to attend school, commonly known as truancy, passed the Texas Senate in mid-April 2015 and now awaits action in the state House of Representatives. The juvenile criminal justice system deals with numerous acts that would not be considered illegal or unlawful for adults, such as truancy or possession of alcohol, and while this may not always seem like the case, the system is intended to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Texas’ system has come under substantial criticism, as well as an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), for its treatment of truancy as a criminal offense. The bill, SB 106, has substantial support, but opponents have claimed that it is not necessary because the resources it seeks to create are already available.

Under current Texas law, most children between the ages of six and 18 are required to attend school unless they are subject to an exemption. Tex. Educ. Code §§ 25.085, 25.086. If a child who is at least 12 years old misses 10 or more days in any six-month period during a single school year, or three or more days within a period of four weeks, the child has committed a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. Tex. Educ. Code § 25.094, Tex Pen. Code § 12.23.

The offense of truancy may be prosecuted outside of the juvenile court system. A judge may order a child found guilty of truancy to attend school and other special programs, perform community service, and attend tutoring sessions. Tex. Code of Crim. P. Art. 45.054. The court may order the child’s parents or guardians to “attend a class for students at risk of dropping out of school.” Id. at Art. 45.054(a)(3). Failure to abide by a court’s orders may result in a contempt finding, which could include jail time. Tex. Educ. Code § 25.094(d), Tex. Code Crim. P. Art. 45.050.

According to various news reports and advocates for reforming the state’s truancy laws, Texas pursues over twice as many truancy cases as the other 49 states combined, and it is one of the few states to classify it as a criminal offense. In March 2015, the DOJ announced that it was investigating Dallas County’s truancy prosecutions, amid allegations of various constitutional violations. Children who miss school, along with their parents or guardians, could face substantial fines and additional obligations, and stories of children being arrested and led out of school in handcuffs on truancy charges are widespread.

State Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, filed SB 106 in November 2014. The bill would repeal § 25.094 of the Education Code, along with multiple sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Family Code. It would reduce the maximum fine for first offenses from $500 to $100, and it would replace provisions that could result in jail time with interventions aimed at improving students’ behavior under the threat of expulsion. The bill passed the Texas Senate on April 15, 2015, and it now awaits action in the House.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

If you are facing one or more criminal charges, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney, who can help you understand your rights and prepare your case. Board-certified criminal defense lawyer Michael J. Brown has represented people in west Texas in criminal matters for over 20 years. To schedule a confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced advocate, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

More Blog Posts:

Federal Government Threatens to Cut Funding for Juvenile Justice Programs, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 19, 2012
Judge Who Accepted a $1 Million Dollar Kickback from Juvenile Prison Builder Sentenced to Life in Prison, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, August 15, 2011
Photo credit: Ralph Hedley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.