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In re J. F. C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

December 14, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF J. F. C.

         On Appeal from the 313th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2016-03782J

          Panel consists of Justices Jennings, Bland, and Brown.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Harvey Brown Justice.

         This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal from the juvenile court's order waiving jurisdiction over a minor, pseudonymously referred to as John Francis Conner, and transferring the case to criminal district court so he can be tried as an adult for capital murder.[1] In a single issue, John contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to sustain the juvenile court's findings supporting its order to transfer him to the criminal district court. We affirm.

         Background

         One day, the complainant, a fifteen-year-old freshman, pseudonymously referred to as Kristen Price, did not return home from school, and her family reported her missing. She was last seen leaving school around noon with her boyfriend, John, and several of their friends. The friends told the police that they had gone to a nearby restaurant and then to an abandoned apartment complex, where they left John and Kristen alone.

         The police then went to the apartment complex, where they found Kristen's body hidden in a cabinet under a sink in one of the apartments. Kristen was clothed, but her jeans were unbuttoned and unzipped, and she was missing her shoes and underwear, which were found in the adjacent unit.

         As the police were conducting their investigation, John's father took him driving to search for Kristen. As they drove around searching for her, John told his father to take him home because Kristen was dead. John's comment prompted his father to take him to the police station, where the police searched John's cell phone.

         The police found text messages on John's phone. The text messages showed that, on the day Kristen went missing, while she was still at school, John texted her and demanded that she skip school with him. John threatened Kristen that if she did not leave with him, her life would "end on bloods." The police also recovered a video from John's phone. The video itself was black, but the audio appeared to record John sexually assaulting Kristen as she cried and begged him to stop.

         John was then interviewed by K. Turner, a detective who had been investigating Kristen's disappearance and murder. John initially denied killing Kristen and dismissed the video as being from a "long time ago." But then Turner showed John the date and time stamp and again asked John whether he killed Kristen, and John responded that he did.

         John was charged with capital murder. The State moved the juvenile court to waive its jurisdiction and transfer John to the criminal district court to stand trial as an adult. After a transfer hearing during which the juvenile court received documentary evidence and heard testimony from Detective Turner and Dr. Uche Chibueze, a psychologist who examined John for certification, the juvenile court entered an order finding that the seriousness of the alleged offense and John's background required that he be transferred to the criminal district court for prosecution as an adult. John appeals.

         Juvenile Court's Waiver of Jurisdiction

         In his sole issue, John argues that the juvenile court abused its discretion in waiving jurisdiction and transferring his case to criminal court because the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the court's finding that the seriousness of the alleged offense and John's background require criminal rather than juvenile proceedings.

         A. Applicable law and standard of review

         Children ordinarily are not subject to criminal proceedings like adults. Instead, juvenile courts have exclusive original jurisdiction over cases involving what otherwise would be criminal conduct by children 10 years of age or older and under 17 years of age. Tex. Fam. Code §§ 51.02(2)(a), 51.03(a)(1), 51.04(a). But if a juvenile court determines that certain conditions are met after a hearing, it may waive its jurisdiction and transfer a child to the district court for criminal proceedings. Id. § 54.02(a), (c). The State initiates this process by requesting such a hearing and providing notice. Id. § 54.02(b).

         To transfer a child who is alleged to have committed a first-degree felony, like capital murder, to the criminal district court, a juvenile court must find that (1) the child was 14 or older at the time of the alleged offense, (2) there is probable cause to believe the child committed the offense, and (3) the welfare of the community requires criminal rather than juvenile proceedings due to the seriousness of the alleged offense or the background of the child. Id. ยง 54.02(a). In ...


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