Texas Press Association Guest Article: Recent Decisions Affect Access to Juvenile Courts

10/16/2014

Recent news events have shown that, sadly, juvenile courts do not hear only cases involving minor offenses committed by "good kids." While those types of cases are certainly part of a juvenile court judges must hear cases involving offenses such as assault, battery, sexual assault, intoxication manslaughter, and even murder. These cases involve criminal conduct but juvenile courts in Texas are considered civil courts and as in many other states, public access to juvenile court proceedings in Texas has historically been more limited than access rights to criminal court proceedings involving audit defendants. Two recent appellate court decisions, however, should serve to limit a juvenile court's ability to exclude the press and public from hearings and trials and ensure great public access rights to these courts.

The Texas Family code provides that in a case in which the accused juvenile is at least 14 years old the proceedings “shall” be open unless the court “for good cause shown” determines that the public should be excluded. In a case decided this summer, In re Fort Worth Star-Telegram, et al., the Fort Worth Court of Appeals held that before a juvenile court judge may close a proceeding to the press and public, there must be “some evidence in the record supportive of a good cause finding that the public should be excluded.” In Star-Telegram, a group of two newspapers and four television stations challenged a juvenile court judge’s orders in a murder case closing to the press and public, without prior notice or public hearing, an adult certification hearing and a subsequent hearting to approve a plea bargain agreement made by the accused juvenile and prosecutor.

Excerpted from the Texas Press Association, October 16, 2014. 

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