Can A Juvenile Be Charged With Felony Murder?
Although the Texas juvenile justice system is designed to focus on the rehabilitation of youthful offenders rather than punishment, that does not stop prosecutors from “throwing the book” at a teenager accused of engaging in criminal activity that has harmed other people. Even in cases where there may have been no intent to injure–or even kill–the law may still lead to some of the harshest penalties available in juvenile cases.
Juvenile Driver Convicted After Passenger Dies During Police Chase
A recent Harris County case, In the Matter of R.C., provides a case in point. Prosecutors charged the juvenile in this proceeding with felony murder. This is the legal term used to describe the unintentional killing of someone during the course of committing another felony.
In this case, the juvenile was driving his car down the Sam Houston Parkway. A police officer observed that the juvenile’s vehicle had no license plates and had executed an improper lane change. The officer decided to initiate a traffic stop. Rather than heed the officer’s signal to pull over, however, the juvenile decided to speed up. The officer pursued–at speeds of between 80 and 90 miles per hour–and during the chase, the juvenile’s vehicle hit the concrete curb. This caused the juvenile to lose control of the vehicle, which proceeded to flip over and eject another individual, who had been the juvenile’s passenger. The passenger subsequently died as a result of these injuries.
On these facts, prosecutors alleged felony murder in juvenile court. The juvenile argued that under the felony murder statute, prosecutors had to prove that he committed an “act clearly dangerous to human life that cause[d] the death of an individual.” Fleeing the police, the juvenile said, did not cause the passenger’s death. Rather, it was the passenger’s failure to wear a seat belt.
The juvenile court rejected this defense and found the juvenile engaged in delinquent conduct–the equivalent of a guilty verdict in adult court–and sentenced him to eight years confinement. On appeal, the juvenile reiterated his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence.
The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals rejected the challenge and affirmed the juvenile court’s decision. The appellate court noted that the passenger’s “failure to wear a seat belt alone did not cause his death.” Indeed, the evidence presented in juvenile court showed it was the juvenile’s “erratic driving, speeding, losing control of the vehicle, and hitting two curbs before hitting the center median curb” that “caused the vehicle to roll over twice and eject [the passenger] on the second roll-over.” In other words, but-for the juvenile’s driving, the passenger would not have died. And contrary to the juvenile’s argument, the reckless driving was the dangerous act that justified the felony murder charge, not evading the police.
Contact Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today
You should never expect prosecutors to go easy on a juvenile simply because of their age. That is why it is important to work with an experienced Pearland juvenile defense lawyer who will represent your child’s interests forcefully in court. Contact the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today to speak with a member of our criminal defense team.