Free Legal Help for Current and Former Foster Youth: 1-877-313-3688



Criminal Laws for Those Under 18
Criminal and Juvenile Records
Drinking Laws

Age Based Criminal Laws


After you turn 21, it is legal for you to purchase, possess, and use tobacco and e-cigarette products. If you  are  under  21 and  caught with or  using tobacco and e-cigarette products, you may be fined, forced to attend a tobacco awareness class, and have your driver’s license suspended. If you are in the military or your birth date is before September 1, 2001, you can buy and use tobacco products if you are at least 18 years old.


You may get a tattoo if you are 18. If you are under 18 and lie about your age to get a tattoo, you may be fined or sent to jail!


Most nighttime and school hour curfews do not apply after you turn 18. Curfews that apply to everyone, such as at a park, will still apply.

Drinking Laws

Underage Driving

If you are under the age of 21, it is illegal for you to: Buy, Try to buy, Carry, OR Drink any alcoholic beverage. In addition, if you are under the age of 21, it is illegal for you to be drunk in public and the consequences are more severe than if you are over 21 and drunk in public. It is also illegal to use a false ID or lie about your age to try to get alcoholic beverages.

If you break any of those laws, then you face these consequences:

  • Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500,
  • Attendance at an alcohol awareness class,
  • 8 to 40 hours community service, and
  • Loss of your driver’s license for 30 to 180 days.

If you are 17 or older and it’s your third violation, then you could be fined up to $2,000, jailed for up to 180 days, or both. Your driver’s license will also be suspended.

If  you have been convicted of  breaking the underage alcohol laws before and if  you do not attend the alcohol awareness training, then your drivers’ license will be suspended for one year.

Penalties for Providing Alcohol to a Minor

If you give alcohol to someone under 21, then you can get into a lot of trouble. The punishment for giving or even offering alcoholic beverages to someone under 21 years old is a class A misdemeanor that can be punished by a fine of up to $4,000, jail for up to a year, or both. Your driver’s license will also be suspended for 180 days.

If you give alcohol to someone and that person hurts someone else—like if he or she gets in a car accident—then you can also be held responsible.

Zero Tolerance Law

By now you have heard about the dangers of drinking and driving. About one person is killed every 30 minutes in an alcohol-related car accident. If you drink and drive, you risk your own safety, the safety of everyone in your car and the safety of everyone else on the road. If you hurt someone while driving drunk, you may face serious criminal charges, including homicide.

Even if you do not hurt anyone, there are still serious consequences for driving while under the influence of alcohol. It is illegal for adults over 21 to drive while intoxicated (exceeding the legal limit for alcohol in your system).

It is also illegal for anyone under 21 to drive while having any alcohol in his or her system. If you are under 21 years old and drive after drinking any alcohol, you face these consequences:

First Offense:

  • Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500
  • Attendance at an alcohol awareness class
  • 20 to 40 hours of mandatory community service
  • Loss of your driver’s license for 60–180 days

Second offense:

  • Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500
  • Attendance at an alcohol awareness class
  • 40 to 60 hours of mandatory community service
  • Loss of your driver’s license for 120 days–2 years

Third offense:

  • Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500
  • Attendance at an alcohol awareness class
  • 40 to 60 hours of mandatory community service
  • Loss of your driver’s license for 180 days–2 years

If you are 17 or older, depending on the number of prior offenses, the fine can be up to $2,000–$10,000, you can be jailed for up to 10 years, and driver license suspension for up to 2 years.

The penalties for drunk driving are much more strict and, even if you are under the age of 17, you can be charged with drunk driving.

Criminal and Juvenile Court and Records

If you are arrested or ticketed for a crime you could end up spending time in jail, being on probation, performing community service or paying a fine. Any sort of criminal history—an arrest, deferred adjudication, a conviction—is very likely to end up on your “criminal record.” This is true even if it is for something that seems unimportant in juvenile court when you were under 17. Your “criminal record” will be accessed and reviewed by potential employers and landlords, and even colleges and can keep you from getting a job, renting an apartment, being admitted into a school, or getting food stamps. Certain charges on a criminal history can prevent you from getting certified or licensed for all sorts of jobs, including those in law enforcement or health care. There is a lot of misinformation about what will or can show up on your criminal record. It is important for you to understand that most of your history probably will show up unless you go to court and get the court to take special action to have it taken out of your record. For some types of things, a judge will not have authority to remove it from your record. It is best if you never get in trouble with the law and, if you do, that you don’t get in trouble again. Important! Once you are 17 years old, if you commit a crime you will go to the adult jail and your court case will be in the adult court system. Even if you are under 17, for serious crimes, you can be certified as an adult and the case will be handled in adult criminal court, which means consequences will be more severe.

Juvenile Court and Records

Juvenile records are for anything of a criminal nature that you did before you were 17 years old. Who has access to the records and whether records can be sealed or expunged (erased) depends on what court the case was in and the type of crime. If the case is in a juvenile court or with juvenile probation, some juvenile records can be sealed, meaning they are no longer accessible to anyone. Sealing records is a complicated process and the rules have changed recently. Some records are sealed by the court after a certain period of time and some records require you to ask the court to seal them. Before you can ask the court to seal a record, certain things must happen, such as a certain amount of time passing and no further criminal convictions.

Some criminal matters involving those under the age of 17 are in justice of the peace or municipal court. These cases usually involve more minor criminal matters called Class-C Misdemeanors. The rules regarding expunging these are different than the rules of juvenile court. If you are convicted in one of these cases, you may be ordered to pay a fine. It is important to tell the judge that you are in foster care or were at the time of the crime and under state law you are considered “indigent,” meaning you are poor and can’t be ordered to pay the fine (Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 45.0491).

If you had some sort of criminal matter that was never resolved, it may come back as a bigger issue if you don’t show up for court. For many foster youth this happens with justice of the peace or municipal court cases. They received a Class-C misdemeanor for something like a fight, shoplifting or curfew violation, and didn’t go to court for it because they moved foster care placements. Then they never told anyone about the ticket, or those that were supposed to help them take care of it, did not follow through on it. Once they are 18 a warrant is issued for their arrest and a hold is placed on them getting a driver’s license. Don’t assume no news is good news. Ask your caseworker, attorney, CASA and foster parent to help you find out what happened to those cases you had, even if it was for something minor. Contact the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project at (877)313-3688 for assistance in determining what you can do about a criminal record.

Criminal Records

For those crimes that you commit when you are 17 or older, you will have an adult criminal record. Getting something off your adult criminal record is called expunction. An order sealing your criminal record from the general public is called nondisclosure. Most adult criminal records will be on your record forever; the law does not allow you to get  them off your record unless you are found not guilty, you get a pardon from the Texas governor who only grants a few each year, or you obtain deferred adjudication for some minor crimes and a specified amount of time has passed. You need to have a lawyer review your case to see if you can expunge your record, and to handle filing an expunction request with the court. Before you enter a plea of guilty or  no contest, or accept deferred adjudication, discuss with your attorney what will go on your criminal record, if it will be at all possible to get it off and if so, how you will get it off. You should fully understand the long term consequences before you agree to any plea; a criminal record will come up when you apply for employment, apartments, colleges and licenses for jobs. Remember these criminal proceedings do not automatically go away.


Resolving Class C Misdemeanors

Street Smarts Series (TRLA)

Youth Guide Series (TRLA)

Sealing/ Expunction of Criminal Records


Juvenile Court

*Indicates a resource developed by the Texas Foster Youth Justice Project, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. or Texas C-Bar. Please download, copy, and distribute. Complete Resource List