Legislative changes will affect juvenile court cases

School ZoneAs a municipal court judge, I see many young defendants who are in court for the first time. My job is to make sure these juveniles don’t appear again in my court, or any other. Starting next week, recent legislative changes will affect the type of cases we see.

Class C Offenses

Citations can no longer be issued for Class C offenses (other than traffic) that occur on school property and involve defendants between 10 and 16 years old. The most common tickets in any school are for class disruption, disorderly conduct or inappropriate language. A witness with knowledge must now sign an affidavit, and a complaint approved by the prosecutor must be filed in court before the police can file charges.

In College Station, we have never had much of a problem with tickets for school misbehavior. When cases have been filed, the police, school officials and prosecutors have also filed an offense report with witness statements. When a criminal case is filed against a juvenile, our juvenile case manager must summon the parents and the child, and the child must appear in open court to plea before the judge.

Having a description of the incident has always been helpful to me in deciding on whether Teen Court or other punishments are appropriate. I need to understand what actually occurred to communicate effectively with the defendant and to try to prevent a later appearance in another court.

A citation with only the words “disruption of class” or “assault” doesn’t tell me much. College Station school officials, police officers and prosecutors have always been willing to provide me the information necessary to understand a case, but the Texas Legislature has made such cooperation mandatory.

Cell Phones, School Buses

Another change is the prohibition of cell phone use while driving a motor vehicle on school property when reduced speed limits are in effect within a school zone. Previously, cell phones were prohibited only in designated school crossing zones, but now areas such as pick-up and drop-off lanes and parking lots are also restricted. At A&M Consolidated High School, reduced speeds are in effect the entire school day. Use of hands-free devices is still allowed, and drivers may use a cell phone while their cars are stopped or parked.

The final major change is the increase in fines for illegally passing a stopped school bus. The minimum penalty has gone from $200 to $500, and the maximum fine is now $1,250. Thankfully, we only see a few citations for illegally passing school buses, but the legislature has made it clear that the penalty for doing so will be steep.

Ed Spillane
 
Ed Spillane | Presiding Judge
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