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In re S.L.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

July 26, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF S.L., III

         From the 451st Judicial District Court, Kendall County, Texas Trial Court No. 16-010-JV Honorable Bill R. Palmer, Judge Presiding

          Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice.

         This is an accelerated appeal of a juvenile court's order waiving its exclusive jurisdiction and transferring S.L., III to district court for criminal proceedings. S.L., III challenges the juvenile court's finding "that because of the seriousness of the alleged offenses and the background of the child, the welfare of the community requires criminal proceedings." We affirm the juvenile court's order.

         Background

         S.L., III is charged with attempted capital murder, aggravated robbery, burglary, and aggravated assault. After the State filed an original petition for discretionary transfer to district court, the juvenile court signed an order requiring the juvenile probation office to "perform a complete diagnostic study, social evaluation and full investigation of [S.L., III], his circumstances and the circumstances of the alleged offense" in preparation for the hearing on his discretionary transfer.[1]

         After a two-day hearing, the juvenile court signed an order waiving its jurisdiction and transferring S.L., III to district court. In addition to the findings contained in its written order, the juvenile court also signed additional findings of fact in support of its order. S.L., III appeals.

         Texas Family Code Section 54.02

         Section 54.02(a) of the Juvenile Justice Code provides, in pertinent part, that the juvenile court may waive its exclusive original jurisdiction and transfer a child to district court for criminal proceedings if the following is determined:

(1) the child is alleged to have violated a penal law of the grade of felony;
(2) the child was: (A) 14 years of age or older at the time [of the alleged] offense, if the offense is a … felony of the first degree, …; or (B) 15 years of age or older at the time [of the alleged] offense, if the offense is a felony of the second or third degree …, and no adjudication hearing has been conducted concerning that offense; and
(3) after a full investigation and a hearing, the juvenile court determines that there is probable cause to believe that the child before the court committed the offense alleged and that because of the seriousness of the offense alleged or the background of the child the welfare of the community requires criminal proceedings.

Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 54.02(a) (West 2014). When determining the seriousness of the offense alleged and the background of the child pursuant to the third requirement, section 52.04(f) requires the juvenile court to consider the following non-exclusive factors:

(1) whether the alleged offense was against person or property, with greater weight in favor of transfer given to offenses against the person;
(2) the sophistication and maturity of the child;
(3) the record and previous history of the child; and
(4) the prospects of adequate protection of the public and the likelihood of the rehabilitation of the child by use of procedures, services, and facilities currently available to the juvenile court.

Id. at § 54.02(f).

         Standard of Review

         "[I]in evaluating a juvenile court's decision to waive its jurisdiction, an appellate court should first review the juvenile court's specific findings of fact regarding the Section 54.02(f) factors under 'traditional sufficiency of the evidence review.'" Moon v. State, 451 S.W.3d 28, 47 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014). Under a legal sufficiency challenge, we credit evidence favorable to the challenged finding if a reasonable factfinder could and disregard contrary evidence unless a reasonable fact finder could not. City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 827 (Tex. 2005). If there is more than a scintilla of evidence to support the finding, a legal sufficiency challenge fails. BMC Software Belgium, N.V. v. Marchand, 83 S.W.3d 789, 795 (Tex. 2002); Faisst v. State, 105 S.W.3d 8, 12 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2003, no pet.). Under a factual sufficiency challenge, we consider all of the evidence presented to determine if the court's finding is so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence as to be clearly wrong or unjust. Moon, 451 S.W.3d at 46 n.75 (internal citations omitted); C.M. v. State, 884 S.W.2d 562, 563 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1994, no writ). Our review of the sufficiency of the evidence supporting waiver is limited to the facts the juvenile court expressly relied on in its transfer order. Moon, 451 S.W.3d at 50.

         We must then review the juvenile court's ultimate waiver decision under an abuse of discretion standard. Id. at 47. "That is to say, in deciding whether the juvenile court erred to conclude that the seriousness of the offense alleged and/or the background of the juvenile called for criminal proceedings for the welfare of the community, the appellate court should simply ask, in light of its own analysis of the sufficiency of the evidence to support the Section 54.02(f) factors and any other relevant evidence, whether the juvenile court acted without reference to guiding rules or principles." Id. We must, however, remain mindful that "not every Section 54.02(f) factor must weight in favor of transfer to justify the juvenile court's discretionary decision to waive its jurisdiction." Id. A juvenile court does not abuse its discretion if its transfer decision "represent[s] a reasonably principled application of the legislative criteria." Id. The juvenile court must, however, "show its work" and specifically state the reasons for waiver. Id. at 49. "The juvenile court that shows its work should rarely be reversed." Id.

         Analysis

         In his brief, S.L., III concedes each of the following requirements for transfer have been met: (1) he is alleged to have violated a penal law of the grade of felony; (2) he was 15 years of age or older at the time he is alleged to have committed the offense which is a felony of the first or second degree and no adjudication hearing has been conducted concerning that offense; and (3) probable cause exists to support a determination that he committed the alleged offense. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 54.02(a). The only requirement S.L., III challenges is whether the welfare of the community requires criminal proceedings because of the seriousness of the offense alleged or his background. As previously noted, in determining whether this requirement is met, the juvenile court must consider the following non-exhaustive factors:

(1) whether the alleged offense was against person or property, with greater weight in favor of transfer given to offenses against the person;
(2) the sophistication and maturity of the child;
(3) the record and previous history of the child; and
(4) the prospects of adequate protection of the public and the likelihood of the rehabilitation of the child by use of procedures, services, and facilities currently available to the juvenile court.

Id. at § 54.02(f).

         A. Section ...


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