Parenting Advice: When Your Child Gets Arrested

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If you have children, then you know the truth. Kids, especially teens, are impulsive. Sometimes they behave erratically. Sometimes their decisions defy logic. And occasionally those bad decisions get them arrested.

It doesn’t matter that you spent countless hours mentoring them. It doesn’t matter that you told them, “never drive a car without a license and insurance.” Because those gazillion neurons growing and firing at rapid speed can compromise a teens judgment and decision-making abilities. They may not understand the rules the way you want them to be understood. Driving in the parking lot with your friends is REALLY driving.

Nevertheless, if your child gets arrested, it will be traumatic for both of you.  And even though the police and the judicial system expect kids to make illegal mistakes, their jobs are to enforce the law. How that law is enforced and what the outcome will be for your child is sometimes luck of the judge, jurisdiction, the state you live in, and the severity of the offense.

If your child has been arrested before, then you probably are familiar with the workings of the system. However, if this is the first time your child’s been arrested, you need to educate yourself quickly and take some measures to protect your child, your family, and to fortify yourself.  Being involved in the judicial system, even juvenile court, is traumatic, expensive, emotionally draining, seemingly unfair, and sometimes unpredictable.

The first thing you should do, after finding a good lawyer, is to research your state’s laws concerning juveniles and how juvenile court works.

What Is Juvenile Court?

Juvenile Court is a special court that deals with minors who have been charged with a crime. The age range that juvenile court deals with varies by state. Unlike adult court, juvenile court is civil and charges are referred as delinquent acts rather than crimes. .

In most states, a child is tried as a juvenile until the age of 18. But much also depends on the type of crime.
In most states, a child is tried as a juvenile until the age of 18. But much also depends on the type of crime.

If a juvenile is arrested and accused of violating certain laws, the juvenile court will determine if the charges have merit and if the minor is delinquent. The court depends on a petition from an intake officer and considers the following information when making a decision.

  • seriousness of the offense
  • child’s age
  • past record
  • evidence
  • gender (boys are more likely to be charged than girls)
  • social history and school records
  • and, the family history and structure

After reviewing everything, the court, the court has broad authority to decide what is best. Based on the state, that can mean placement into a juvenile facility, at home with the parents, in a therapeutic residential treatment facility, or in foster care. If the charges are for a more series crime, juvenile court can reassign the minor to be charged as an adult.

But while your child is being processed through juvenile court, he has certain rights.

Know Your Child’s Rights

According to NOLO.com, a legal self-help website, your child has certain rights in the juvenile court. Some of them are based on U.S. Supreme Court cases; some laws vary by state.

Police must have probable cause to search a minor. To search and arrest a minor, police officers must have what’s called “probable cause.” It means that police must have sufficient reason to believe that a crime was committed.  An exception to this rule is if a parent or a school official knows of an offense and involves the police.

A Minor has a right to a phone call after an arrest. It sounds cliché. In any television show, whenever the main character is arrested and waiting for arraignment, he always asks to make his one phone call. But it’s based on the Miranda Rights.  According to Cornell University Law School, Miranda Rights inform the suspect that they have a right to remain silent, to not talk to police without an attorney. Based on the 5th Amendment, it’s meant to protect suspects from self-incrimination. If the police arrest your child without reading him his Miranda Rights, anything your child says, any testimony, is inadmissible in court. If your child gets arrested and asks to call you or an attorney, your child is invoking his Miranda Rights

A Minor has no right to seek bail.  In many states, a minor is released to his parents or guardians before court meets to decide on the case. But in some cases, if a judge feels it necessary, he can hold your child in detention until all evidence is evaluated or until the case is reviewed in court. As a minor, your child has no right to bail and can be held for an indefinite period of time.

A minor has a right to counsel. As a parent, you should secure an experienced attorney to defend your child, one who knows the laws, who works in juvenile court, and who knows the trends and personalities of different juvenile court judges.

Notice of Charges. Your child must be provided with notice of any charges he faces. There are horror stories of suspects held indefinitely without due process, without hearing his charges. These situations do happen but their occurrence is rare. And they don’t normally happen in juvenile court.

A minor has the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses. Even though minors don’t go through a trial in juvenile court, they do have the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses. It’s the way that a minor can defend himself.

The privilege against self-incrimination. Minors in juvenile court proceedings have a right to assert their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. This means that a minor cannot be forced to testify against him or herself.

Charges must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. If the outcome of an arrest means incarceration, juvenile court must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the charges are true.The right to have charges proved beyond a reasonable doubt. If the investigation takes a long time, the minor can be held in a detention facility or residential treatment until the charge are proven or disproven.

What Should You do as a Parent?

Don’t argue with the police: Remember that the police have a responsibility. In most arrests of juveniles, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the crime actually happened. The police are not on your side. They are there to reinforce the law, to maintain law and order. Occasionally you will find a police department with an inherent understanding of teen behavior and may make compassionate recommendations based on family circumstances. But confronting or engaging the police can result in a less desirable outcome for your child.

Find a Support Group:  If your child gets arrested, you need support. Parenting a child who has been arrested can be lonely. Some parents feel embarrassed and withdraw from supportive social circles. In rare cases, communities will alienate the families of those dealing with an incarcerated child. In either case, it’s helpful to talk with other parents who are going through the same experience or ones who have survived it. Parenting adolescents, especially those prone to risk-taking behavior can be confusing and stressful. Centerforce1.org provides a network of organizations, support groups, and resources to parents who are struggling with teen issues, juvenile arrest, juvenile incarceration, or reintegration after an incarcerated child is released.

If your child is arrested, you should seek out a parenting support group. It helps to talk with parents who are going through the same experience and to parents who have survived.
If your child is arrested, you should seek out a parenting support group. It helps to talk with parents who are going through the same experience and to parents who have survived.

Find a Network of Care For Your Family: If your child goes to court and the case goes to trial, you could be in trial for weeks or months. That means you as a parent are not available to any other children, a spouse, or extended family. You need to set up a support system for your family while you’re involved with your child’s court case.

Talk to a counselor or therapist: If your child did in fact commit the crime, you will experience grief and trauma even if you can’t quite identify the emotions associated with it. Part of the grief stems from a change of perspective. Your child committed a crime and you have to wrap your brain around that fact. You also have to realize that your child isn’t who you thought he/she was and find a way to see your child as an individual with a unique set of values and characteristics. That’s very hard. For the longest time, your child was your baby, an extension of you. And in a way, your child is. Your child has internalized some message either from you or peers. Also if your family has experienced a major trauma or if your child has but never addressed the trauma, that can precipitate crime.

Note: No website should be used in lieu of legal advice. Do your homework, find a good attorney; and if you can’t afford one, contact the Legal Aid Society. Geared toward humane, affordable legal aid that complies with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Legal Aid Society can connect you with many of the experts and services you’ll need after your child gets arrested.

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Author: Merle Huerta

Merle Huerta is a staff writer with Kars4Kids.org, a teacher, tutor, a retired army wife, and a mother of a blended family of 13.

6 thoughts on “Parenting Advice: When Your Child Gets Arrested”

  1. centerforce.org is not functioning. Is there another resource site recommended for parents with children in jail?

  2. Is there something like the Legal Aid Society but for California? My nephew was arrested and my sister needs help getting a lawyer.

  3. My son is 19 and suffers from depression which I also suffer from. From time to time he’d go off for a few days and I knew he was using addictive drugs. I thought he was just partying but he told me he did it to stop the pain he was feeling. The last time he was gone a horrible tragedy happened and someone was killed. Those not the shooter had their and their families lives threatened to cooerce them to participate in hiding the evidence. My son being the youngest and least experienced was set up to take full responsibility. In Virginia unfortunately suspects are treated as guilty until proven innocent and my son doesn’t stand a chance at a fair trial without a good lawyer but I’m on disability and can’t afford one. Is there any help for him?

    1. While a public defender is assigned to anyone who cannot afford to hire an attorney, you may get a better response from Virginia Legal Aid Society. Their website is vlas.org. Good luck!

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