Does juvenile offender have statutory right under the Juvenile Justice Code to the
appointment of an attorney in a habeas corpus proceeding filed after juvenile has become an
In Re Hall, No. 07-0322 (Tex. Jun. 12, 2009)(Medina)
THE GIST: We have not found any provision in the Juvenile Justice Code
requiring the appointment of counsel for the juvenile offender under the
circumstances presented here. The juvenile court therefore did not abuse its
discretion in denying Hall’s motion for appointment of counsel in the underlying
post-adjudication habeas corpus, and we accordingly deny his petition for writ of
IN RE JAMES ALLEN HALL; from Bexar County; 4th district
(04-07-00050-CV, ___ SW3d ___, 02-14-07)
The petition for writ of mandamus is denied.
Justice David Medina delivered the opinion of the Court. [pdf version of opinion]
Link to --> Electronic Brief on court's website
MEMORANDUM OPINION OF THE
SAN ANTONIO COURT OF APPEALS
IN RE James Allen HALL
Original Mandamus Proceeding (1)
Sitting: Alma L. López, Chief Justice
Karen Angelini , Justice
Rebecca Simmons , Justice
Delivered and Filed: February 14, 2007
PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS DENIED
The court has considered relator's petition for writ of mandamus. The court is of the opinion that relief should be
denied. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 51.10(f) (Vernon Supp. 2006) (requiring appointment of attorney for "child" who
has right to representation by attorney): Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 51.02(2) (Vernon Supp. 2006) (generally defining
"child" as a person under 18 years of age); In re B.D., 16 S.W.3d 77, 77-80 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2000, pet.
denied) (holding juvenile defendant who is over 18 is not a "child" as that term is used in the Juvenile Justice Code).
Accordingly, relator's petition for writ of mandamus is denied.
1. This proceeding arises out of Cause No. 1995-JUV-01540, styled Ex parte James Allen Hall, pending in the 289th Judicial District
Court, Bexar County, Texas, the Honorable Carmen Kelsey presiding.
In re Hall (Tex. 2009)
Argued November 12, 2008
Justice Medina delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this original mandamus proceeding, we must decide whether an indigent person, adjudicated a
juvenile delinquent as a minor and sentenced to forty years, has a statutory right under the Juvenile
Justice Code to the appointment of an attorney in a habeas corpus proceeding filed after that
person becomes an adult.
The juvenile offender in this case filed a pro se motion with the juvenile court several years after his
transfer to an adult facility. In this motion, he requested a hearing and the appointment of counsel to
pursue habeas corpus relief challenging the legality of his imprisonment under Title 3 of the Texas
Family Code, also known as the Juvenile Justice Code. See Act of May 24, 1973, 63d Leg., R.S.,
ch. 544, 1973 Tex. Gen. Laws 1460 (enacting Title 3 of the Family Code to provide procedures
relating to delinquent children).1 The juvenile court denied the request.
The offender subsequently filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the court of appeals, seeking to
compel the trial court to appoint counsel for him and conduct a hearing. The court of appeals, in a
memorandum opinion, denied mandamus relief, concluding that the offender was not entitled to
appointed counsel because he no longer qualified as a child under the Juvenile Justice Code. In re
Hall, 2007 WL 460698, 2007 Tex. App. LEXIS 1056 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Feb. 14, 2007) (mem.
op.). Although we do not believe that the juvenile offender’s age is determinative, we agree that the
Juvenile Justice Code does not provide the offender the right to appointed counsel under the present
circumstances and likewise deny mandamus relief for reasons we explain below.
In January 1996, fourteen-year-old James Allen Hall was adjudicated and sentenced in juvenile court
under the Juvenile Justice Code. See generally Tex. Fam. Code § 54.03. A jury found that Hall had
engaged in delinquent conduct by committing capital murder and the court assessed punishment at a
sentence of forty years. Tex. Fam. Code § 54.04(d)(3)(A). Hall served his sentence at a Texas Youth
Commission facility until age eighteen, at which time the juvenile court conducted a hearing to
determine whether he should be transferred to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. See Tex.
Fam. Code § 54.11(a) (requiring juvenile courts to conduct a hearing assessing an offender’s
transfer status). The juvenile court concluded that Hall should be transferred to an adult prison to
serve the remainder of his sentence, and the court of appeals affirmed the transfer order. In re J.A.H.,
2000 WL 1283734, 2000 Tex. App. LEXIS 6194 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Sept. 13, 2000)(not
designated for publication).
Seven years later, Hall filed the motion at issue with the juvenile court, requesting that the court
appoint counsel to assist him in pursuing post-adjudication habeas corpus relief. Unaided by an
attorney, Hall argued that he was entitled to appointed counsel under the Juvenile Justice Code. The
juvenile court disagreed, however, and denied his request. Hall thereafter sought mandamus relief
from the court of appeals to compel the appointment, but the court denied relief. The court of appeals
reasoned that Hall was not entitled to have counsel appointed for him under the Juvenile Justice
Code because he no longer met the Code’s definition of a child. In re Hall, 2007 WL 460698, 2007
Tex. App. LEXIS 1056 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Feb. 14, 2007) (mem. op).
Hall next sought mandamus relief in this Court. Hall also made a written request for assistance to the
Pro Bono Committee of the Appellate Section of the State Bar of Texas, which approved his request
and provided an attorney to assist him in this proceeding.
The Legislature enacted the Juvenile Justice Code as a separate system for the prosecution,
adjudication, sentencing, and detention of juvenile offenders to protect the public and provide for the
wholesome moral, mental, and physical development of delinquent children. Tex. Fam. Code § 51.01
(1), (2), (3). This separate system often provides enhanced procedural protections to juvenile
offenders, who, because of youth, ordinarily lack the mental and emotional maturity needed to
navigate the Juvenile Justice Code and maintain an adequate defense. In re J.G., 905 S.W.2d 676,
680 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 1995, writ denied); In re S.C., 790 S.W.2d 766, 770-71 (Tex. App.—
Austin 1990, writ denied); In re E.Q., 839 S.W.2d 144, 146 (Tex. App.—Austin 1992, no writ).
Although quasi-criminal in nature, proceedings in juvenile court are considered civil cases; thus, this
Court, rather than the Court of Criminal Appeals, is the Texas court of last resort for such matters.
See, e.g., In re M.A.F, 966 S.W.2d 448, 450 (Tex. 1998); Ex parte Valle, 104 S.W.3d 888, 889-90
(Tex. Crim. App. 2003).
The Code covers the proceedings in all cases involving a child’s delinquent conduct. Tex. Fam. Code
§ 51.04(a). “Child” is defined to include persons less than eighteen years old. Id. § 51.02(2).
“Delinquent conduct” is defined to include, among other things, conduct that violates state or federal
penal law punishable by imprisonment. Id. § 51.03(a)(1). Thus Hall, by taking part in a murder at age
thirteen, engaged in delinquent conduct as a child under the Code.
The juvenile court generally has exclusive original jurisdiction over proceedings involving a child’s
delinquent conduct. Id. § 51.04(a). A person’s status as a child is determined by the person’s age at
the time of the alleged offense. Id. If the child is adjudicated delinquent, the juvenile court retains
jurisdiction over the person even after that person reaches majority. See, e.g., id. §§ 51.041,
Because juvenile proceedings are civil matters, the Court of Criminal Appeals has concluded that it
lacks jurisdiction to issue extraordinary writs in such cases,even those initiated by a juvenile offender
who has been transferred to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice because he is now an adult. Ex
parte Valle, 104 S.W.3d at 889; see also Vasquez v. State, 739 S.W.2d 37, 42 (Tex. Crim. App. 1987)
(plurality op.) (recognizing that delinquency proceedings are civil in nature). The Court of Criminal
Appeals has further concluded that it is the applicant’s age at the time he commits the delinquent acts
that determines jurisdiction, rather than his age when applying for habeas corpus. See Ex parte Valle,
104 S.W.3d at 889 (recognizing that the effect of adjudication of delinquency differs from that of
conviction). Because this is a civil matter, we can reach the issue the Court of Criminal Appeals could
not: whether the Juvenile Justice Code provides a mandatory right to assistance of counsel to an
adult pursuing a post-adjudication habeas corpus claim involving his commitment as a juvenile
offender. See id. at 889-90 (dismissing case falling under Juvenile Justice Code for want of
An indigent person convicted as an adult offender does not have the right to appointed counsel in
collateral, post-conviction proceedings such as the underlying habeas corpus petition in this case.
See Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551, 555 (1987); Ex parte Graves, 70 S.W.3d 103, 110-11 (Tex.
Crim. App. 2002). Hall submits, however, that a juvenile offender has the right to appointed counsel
under these circumstances pursuant to the Juvenile Justice Code. He contends that the Code
expressly extends the right to counsel during every stage of the proceedings, including habeas
The argument is premised on section 51.10(a) of the Code, which provides:
§ 51.10. Right to Assistance of Attorney; Compensation
(a) A child may be represented by an attorney at every stage of proceedings under this title,
(1) the detention hearing required by Section 54.01 of this code;
(2) the hearing to consider transfer to criminal court required by Section 54.02 of this code;
(3) the adjudication hearing required by Section 54.03 of this code;
(4) the disposition hearing required by Section 54.04 of this code;
(5) the hearing to modify disposition required by Section 54.05 of this code;
(6) hearings required by Chapter 55 [pertaining to issues of mental health and mental retardation] of
(7) habeas corpus proceedings challenging the legality of detention resulting from action under this
(8) proceedings in a court of civil appeals or the Texas Supreme Court reviewing proceedings under
Tex. Fam. Code § 51.10(a)(1)-(8) (emphasis added). Hall also relies on section 51.10(f), which
provides that the juvenile court “shall” appoint an attorney to represent the interest of the child
“entitled to representation by an attorney” if the child is not represented by an attorney, the child’s
family is financially unable to hire an attorney, and the child has not waived his right to counsel or the
Code prohibits waiver. Id. § 51.10(f). If the child’s family is financially able, the juvenile court is
directed to order the parent or other financially responsible person to employ an attorney for the
child. See id. § 51.10(d). Taken together, Hall submits that the accused or adjudicated juvenile
offender is ensured representation by an attorney at each of the eight stages itemized in subsection
(a), including (7), habeas corpus proceedings. Id. § 51.10(a)(1)-(8).
The State concedes that juvenile offenders have a right to counsel in specific instances under the
Juvenile Justice Code, but argues that a post-adjudication habeas corpus claim is not one of those
instances. The State submits that this is clear from the text of section 51.10(a)(7) which refers only to
“habeas corpus proceedings challenging the legality of [the child’s] detention.” The State argues that
“detention” here refers to the pre-adjudication confinement of the child, not the post-adjudication
commitment at issue here.2 We agree.
The Juvenile Justice Code does not define the term “detention.” Undefined terms in a statute are
typically given their ordinary meaning. Fitzgerald v. Advanced Spine Fixation Sys., Inc., 996 S.W.2d
864, 865 (Tex. 1999). But we will not give an undefined statutory term a meaning that is out of
harmony or inconsistent with other provisions in the statute. McIntyre v. Ramirez, 109 S.W.3d 741,
745 (Tex. 2003). Thus, if a different, more limited, or precise definition is apparent from the term’s
use in the context of the statute, we apply that meaning. See Tex. Dep’t of Transp. v. Needham, 82 S.
W.3d 314, 318 (Tex. 2002) (courts should not give an undefined statutory term a meaning out of
harmony or inconsistent with other provisions).
“Detention” is commonly defined as either (1) “the act or fact of detaining or holding back; esp: a
holding in custody” or (2) “the state of being detained; esp: a period of temporary custody prior to
disposition by a court.” Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary 307 (1981). The latter definition is closer
to the intended meaning here. In context and consistent with the Juvenile Justice Code’s scheme,
detention refers to the period of temporary custody preceding the adjudication of the charges against
The Code requires that a juvenile court promptly conduct a detention hearing to determine whether
the child should be immediately released from custody. Tex. Fam. Code §§ 54.01(a), (h), (i).
Following this hearing, the court must release the child unless it finds that the child (1) is likely to
leave its jurisdiction, (2) lacks suitable supervision or care, (3) lacks a parent or other responsible
adult, (4) is dangerous to himself or others, or (5) has previously been found delinquent and is likely
to commit an offense if released. Id. § 54.01(e)(1)-(5). The juvenile court is not required to appoint an
attorney for the child prior to the detention hearing, but, if it determines that an unrepresented child
should not be released, the child is entitled to an attorney. Id. § 51.10(c). An attorney appointed
under these circumstances is entitled to request a de novo detention hearing for the child. Id. § 54.01
The Juvenile Justice Code provision on which Hall asserts his right to appointed counsel references
this detention period: “A child may be represented by an attorney at . . . (7) habeas corpus
proceedings challenging the legality of detention resulting from action under this title.” Id. § 51.10(a)
(7). Assuming for the sake of argument that this provision grants the child a right to appointed
counsel, it would not apply here because Hall is not challenging the legality of his detention. The time
for doing that has long since passed. Hall’s habeas corpus proceeding in the juvenile court must
instead challenge the legality of his commitment following the adjudication of the charges against him.
Section 51.10(a)(7) simply does not provide a juvenile offender, who has been transferred to adult
prison, with a general right to appointed counsel in post-adjudication habeas corpus proceedings.
The Code does, however, provide for the appointment of counsel for a number of different
proceedings. For example, the child is entitled to counsel at the adjudication hearing at which the
issue of the child’s delinquent conduct is tried. Id. §§ 51.10(b)(2), 54.03. If, at the conclusion of that
hearing the child is found to have engaged in delinquent conduct, the court must set a disposition
hearing at which the child is again entitled to counsel. Id. §§ 51.10(b)(3), 54.03(h), 54.04. When the
delinquent conduct involves the commission of a felony, as in this case, the disposition may involve
sentencing “the child to commitment in the Texas Youth Commission with a possible transfer to the
Texas Department of Criminal Justice” for completion of the sentence. Id. § 54.04(d)(3). The Code
accordingly provides for a release or transfer hearing at which the child is also entitled to counsel. Id.
§ 54.11(a), (e). The Code further provides for the appointment of counsel if there is a hearing to
transfer the child to criminal court in lieu of adjudication under the Juvenile Justice Code. Id. §§ 51.10
(b)(1), 54.02(e). And as already mentioned, the child is entitled to an attorney if the court determines
that the child should not be released as a preliminary matter but rather detained through the
adjudication and disposition hearings. Id. § 51.10(c). Thus, the Code provides a right to appointed
counsel in a number of different circumstances, but a post-adjudication habeas corpus proceeding is
not one of them.
* * *
We have not found any provision in the Juvenile Justice Code requiring the appointment of counsel
for the juvenile offender under the circumstances presented here. The juvenile court therefore did
not abuse its discretion in denying Hall’s motion for appointment of counsel in the underlying post-
adjudication habeas corpus, and we accordingly deny his petition for writ of mandamus.
David M. Medina
Opinion delivered: June 12, 2009
1 The offender engaged in the underlying delinquent conduct in 1995, when he was thirteen years
old. The Code has been amended since 1994 but none of the substantive changes are at issue here.
2 The State also argues that even if the statute provides juveniles with a right to an attorney during a
habeas proceeding, it is a limited right that terminates when the juvenile offender reaches the age of
majority. Hall contends that taking away his statutory right to habeas counsel because of his age is
arbitrary and a denial of due process. Because we conclude that Hall does not have a statutory right
to counsel under the circumstances here, we do not reach his constitutional argument.