Kids Can Take Their Chances

In an opinion issued Feb. 13, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that confessions made by juveniles cannot be thrown out solely for police officers' failure to notify parents "promptly" that their child has been arrested. In their ruling, the court determined if police follow the other provisions of the Texas Family Code regarding handling of juvenile suspects -- such as making sure children are taken before a magistrate before signing a confession, to ensure they understand their legal rights -- then the parental notification statute cannot stand alone as the basis for the suppression of a statement.

Instead, the court wrote, a "causal connection" must be shown between not notifying parents and obtaining a confession that the child would otherwise not have made. The Feb. 13 ruling returned the case of a Houston teen to the First Court of Appeals for a determination as to whether or not that causal relationship existed.

In 1996, 15-year-old Chance Gonzales was arrested for the shooting death of a Houston convenience store clerk. Police said Gonzales shot the clerk while trying to steal beer from the store. Police arrested Gonzales, read him his rights, took him before a magistrate judge, and questioned him in a juvenile facility. Six hours later, after they had obtained a signed confession, police notified Gonzales' parents that he had been arrested. The trial court failed to suppress Gonzales' statement to police, but the First Court of Appeals subsequently ruled that failure to notify Gonzales' parents made his statement inadmissible in court.

In a separate, concurring opinion -- in which she agreed with the court's decision but not its reasoning -- the court's presiding judge, Sharon Keller, questioned whether the Legislature ever intended the parental notification section of the Family Code to have any bearing on confessions. "[T]he notice provision creates potential problems," she wrote. For instance, how fast is "promptly"? And what happens with the provision if the parents can't be notified because the child is being detained for killing them? "And these potential problems lend further support to the idea that the purpose of the notice provision is to allay a parent's concern over the unexplained absence of his child rather than to allow the parent to interfere with custodial notification," she wrote.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Jordan Smith
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
Motoreum's Yusuf & Antonio talk about the biz and their reality TV debut

May 22, 2014

APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
Musical chairs at Downtown HQ

May 9, 2014

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle