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In re E.D.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso

August 7, 2001

IN THE MATTER OF E.D.C., A Juvenile.

          Appeal from the 327th District Court of El Paso County, Texas (TC# 0101100)

          Before Panel No. 1 Larsen, McClure, and Chew, JJ.

          OPINION

          SUSAN LARSEN, Justice

         This is an appeal from an Order of Adjudication which found appellant E.D.C. (''E.C.") had engaged in delinquent conduct. We affirm.

         Summary of the Evidence

         On the evening of August 7, 2001, E.C. attempted to cross into the United States at the Paso Del Norte Bridge between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas driving a Honda CRX. While waiting to enter the United States, E.C. was stopped by U.S. Customs Service officials (''Customs") on pre-primary patrol. Pre-primary roving occurs before persons entering into the United States reach primary inspection booths.

         The CRX is commonly used to smuggle contraband, including drugs, into this country. E.C.'s CRX was extremely clean both inside and out--a characteristic common to vehicles used for smuggling contraband. Her car also had temporary Kansas license plates that appeared to be counterfeits. The appearance of the CRX thus raised Customs officers suspicions concerning the vehicle.

         Although E.C. answered questions put to her by Customs, she appeared extremely nervous. She stated she owned the vehicle. Customs did a cursory visual inspection of the car and discovered that two storage compartments which should have been in the vehicle were missing. E.C. was asked to step out of the car and the keys to the vehicle were taken by Customs.

         Customs' inspection of the car revealed a large sealed false compartment. Suspecting contraband was contained within the compartment, Customs followed their safety routine, handcuffed E.C., and took her to a holding facility. Customs' inspection of the CRX at secondary revealed twenty-four bundles of marijuana that weighed 34.5 pounds. E.C. was ultimately turned over to the El Paso County Sheriff's Department who processed her at a juvenile probation detention facility in El Paso.

         E.C. was charged with intentionally and knowingly possessing a usable amount of marijuana in the amount of fifty pounds or less but more than five pounds. Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 481.121(b)(4) (Vernon Supp. 2002). A Petition Based on Delinquent Conduct was filed by the State in August 2001 alleging that E.C. ''[A]t the time of the conduct alleged . . . [was] a female ten years of age or older and under 17 years of age, to wit: 15 years of age . . . ." No answer to the State's Petition Based on Delinquent Conduct was filed on her behalf.

         With the advice of counsel, E.C. requested trial by a jury which began on November 5, 2001. The case was heard in the 327th Judicial District Court in El Paso County, Texas by a Juvenile Court Referee and a jury. Although E.C.'s parents were served in their home state of Colorado with summons and notice of the trial, both refused to appear. At trial, the State attempted to introduce evidence of E.C.'s age from several sources, but E.C.'s objections to that evidence were sustained by the trial court. The jury found that E.C. had engaged in delinquent conduct as charged by the State. This appeal timely ensued.

         Discussion

         In a single point of error, E.C. contends her adjudication as a delinquent must be reversed and her case remanded for a new trial because the State failed to prove she was a juvenile within the age limit of the court's statutory grant of authority. For those reasons discussed below, we affirm the order of adjudication of the trial court.

         The Texas Family Code defines a child as ''a person who is: ten years of age or older and under 17 years of age . . . ." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 51.02(2)(A) (Vernon 2002). A juvenile court retains exclusive original jurisdiction over a person defined as a child within the ...


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