KCBD Investigates: Lubbock County District Attorney says violent juvenile cases are on the rise

Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 5:16 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Violent juvenile crime is on the rise, according to Lubbock County’s Juvenile Justice Center and the Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office.

Lubbock County District Attorney Sunshine Stanek said the number of juvenile cases presented to her office is up 30 percent from this same time last year.

William Carter is the director of the Juvenile Justice Center. He said there has also been a 33 percent increase in felonies, and the majority of those are violent.

Carter said the increase in violent juvenile cases is not isolated to Lubbock County.

Carter said statewide, 66 juveniles were referred for homicide in 2019. By 2021, that number climbed to 133. So far this year, 146 juveniles have been referred for homicide.

Stanek said her office works to make certain the punishment fits the crime, but juveniles do have protections.

“We talk about certifying a juvenile as an adult and treating them as an adult in the juvenile justice system, and that is an extremely important tool that we have,” Stanek said.

However, Stanek said there are restrictions put in place by the legislature.

Ginny Simpson is chief of the juvenile division for the district attorney’s office. She said one of those protections is that the punishment for juveniles is not based on the offense alone.

“You could see a terrible, heinous crime and think oh yeah, that is for sure someone who could be certified, but that is not necessarily true,” Simpson said.

So what do prosecutors need for adult certification?

“In order to certify, I would have to file a petition with a court and let the juvenile and his parents know, as well as the court know, my intention is to attempt to certify this person. I would have to have the judge order a diagnostic evaluation which is done by either a psychiatrist or a psychologist and they are looking at things like criminal thinking, family situation, past history,” Simpson said.

Ultimately, prosecutors said it is up to the court.

“Our office has looked at certifying a number of juveniles in the recent year or two and we have had very few occasions where we have the evidence to present to a court that would allow for that certification,” Stanek said.

Lubbock Police Chief Floyd Mitchell said his department is looking at ways to curb juvenile crime.

Mitchell addressed the city council after one of his veteran police officers, Officer Larry Barnhill, was hit by the driver of a stolen vehicle.

The driver? A 14-year-old was found in the vehicle with other juveniles.

“This 14-year-old, without hesitation, turned the wheels and drove that vehicle right at Larry,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said expanding the curfew is a possibility.