Legal Rights of a 17-Year-Old in Texas

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The age of majority in Texas is 18. From this milestone birthday, Texas residents can organize their own legal and medical affairs, get married without their parents’ consent, and vote. A 17-year-old is not entirely powerless, however, and these minors enjoy many of the rights that we usually associate with adulthood, such as the right to engage in sexual activity and hold a job.

Emancipate From Parents

By Texas law, 17-year-olds can petition the court for emancipation to remove their minority status. This means they become adults in the eyes of the law. Applicants must show that they are capable of supporting themselves and managing their own affairs, for example, by having a full-time job.

Once emancipated, the 17-year-old is no longer under her parent’s care. She can live where she wants, sign legal documents and make decisions about education and marriage without parental consent.

Consent to Medical Treatment

As a general rule, minors in Texas must get their parents’ consent to medical treatment unless they are emancipated from their parents or they are in the military. However, exceptions apply to certain types of treatment. Within the state, 17-year-olds are permitted to make their own medical decisions in matters pertaining to drug use, alcohol use, pregnancy and infectious diseases.

Freely Consent to Sex

It is illegal in Texas for an adult to engage in sexual activity with a child under the age of 17. In the eyes of the law, a person aged 16 years or younger is not mature enough to consent to sexual activity, and any adult who has sexual interaction with a minor of this age may be convicted of indecency, sexual assault or statutory rape. From the age of 17, a person can freely consent to and have sex with someone the same age or older.

Earn a Paycheck

The minimum age to work in Texas is 14, so, by the age of 17, a minor could have three years’ worth of paychecks in his account. While working hours are restricted for 14- and 15-year-olds in the state, a 17-year-old is permitted to work whatever hours he wishes. However, 17-year-olds are prohibited from working jobs that require driving or in certain heavy industries such as coal mining, logging, excavation and roofing.

Some Texas cities have juvenile curfews that theoretically could restrict a minor from traveling to work during school hours or at night, although exemptions are usually available for employment purposes. Most curfews are aimed at younger teenagers and do not apply to minors who are 17.

Be Tried as an Adult

While many will not consider it a "right," offenders in the Texas criminal justice system may be classified as adults (as opposed to juveniles) from the age of 17. This means they will be charged and sentenced as an adult if they commit a crime in the state.

While it’s unlikely that a 17-year-old would be transferred to the adult court system for a petty crime, those accused of serious crimes such as murder, and repeat offenders who have not responded to rehabilitation, could well find themselves with an adult criminal record which impacts future employment opportunities, college applications and sponsorship programs. In theory, a 17-year-old could be slapped with a full life sentence without possibility of parole before they even reach adulthood.