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In re R.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

August 28, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF R.C.

          From the 436th District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2018JUV01596 The Honorable Lisa Jarrett, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice, Irene Rios, Justice Liza A. Rodriguez, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          IRENE RIOS, JUSTICE

         The State filed a motion for discretionary transfer in the juvenile court requesting that the juvenile court waive its exclusive jurisdiction over R.C., a child, and transfer him to criminal district court to be tried as an adult for the offense of capital murder. The juvenile court ordered the statutorily required social evaluation and investigation and set the motion for a hearing. Following the hearing, the juvenile court granted the motion, waived its exclusive jurisdiction, and transferred the case to criminal district court. This accelerated appeal followed. We vacate the juvenile court's order and remand this case to the juvenile court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Analysis

         In four issues, R.C. challenges the juvenile court's waiver of jurisdiction. Specifically, he contends the transfer order did not state case-specific findings to support the juvenile court's conclusions and grounds for transfer; the evidence from the transfer hearing is legally and factually insufficient to support the juvenile court's decision to waive jurisdiction; the juvenile court failed to properly apply the facts to the statutory considerations; and the juvenile court improperly allowed a lay witness to provide expert opinion testimony.

         Applicable Law and Standards of Review

         In Moon v. State, the Court of Criminal Appeals addressed the juvenile court's role in waiver of juvenile jurisdiction cases, advising that the transfer of a child to criminal court for prosecution as an adult should be the exception rather than the rule. Moon v. State, 451 S.W.3d 28, 36 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014). Whenever possible, children below a certain age should be rehabilitated and protected rather than be subject to the harshness of the adult criminal system. Id.

         Section 54.02(a) of the Juvenile Justice Code[1] provides that the juvenile court may transfer a child to the criminal district court for criminal proceedings, thus waiving its exclusive original jurisdiction if:

(1) the child is alleged to have violated a penal law of the grade of felony;
(2) the child was ...14 years of age or older at the time [of the alleged] offense, if the offense is a capital felony, an aggravated controlled substance felony, or a felony of the first degree[;] ... 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). When determining the seriousness of the offense alleged or the background of the child pursuant to the third requirement, section 54.02(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 ...

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