Whether it's a police officer knocking on your door or a 3 a.m. phone call from the local jail, finding out that your child has committed a crime is every parent's nightmare. Even if the crime was relatively minor, or if the charges are eventually dropped, this event nevertheless affects everyone in the family. But when the victim of your child's crime is another of your children, that's another magnitude of nightmare altogether.
Read on to learn what rights and responsibilities you have as a parent in this situation and how you can minimize the impact on everyone involved.
Juvenile Crime and Parental Responsibility
If you learn that someone has committed a crime—say, if they confess it to you, or you witness the behavior—are you required by law to report it? Generally, the answer is no. Failure to report a crime isn't necessarily itself a crime. When it comes to your offspring, however, you may be held liable under your state's parental responsibility laws for certain criminal actions, namely truancy, gun crimes, underage DUIs, and bullying. Additionally, if your child breaks the law and you help conceal the matter, you could face aiding and abetting or accessory charges.
Are Criminal Charges Inevitable?
Not necessarily. The court has a great deal of leeway, and there are multiple factors that influence its decision to charge a minor. These include:
- The nature and severity of the crime
- The child's age
- Their history of crime and/or delinquency, if any
- Evidence of wrongdoing
- Whether the child's parents fulfilled their duties to supervise their children and prevent criminal behavior
Unfortunately, juvenile courts are not prejudice-free zones. This means factors like the minor's ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, appearance, and even their attitude can also play a part in an underage offender's fate.
Alternatives Available to Juvenile Offenders
One of the most widely adopted alternatives to prosecuting minors is pretrial diversion programs. These offer first-time, non-violent offenders an opportunity to avoid criminal charges by complying with certain requirements—usually some combination of:
- Attending rehab for substance abuse, if warranted
- Completing educational programs such as driver safety courses
- Mandatory counseling
- Submitting to random drug screens
- Successfully completing probation
- Performing community service
- Paying restitution to the victim
Pretrial diversion programs can be a godsend to minors and their families; they also ease the strain on court systems and jails that are already overburdened.
Protection From Abuse Orders and Families
Certain criminal behaviors, such as abuse, stalking, harassment, and bullying, can merit filing for a Protection from Abuse order by the victim. PFA orders are also called restraining orders or protective orders; they all forbid the individual named in them from contacting the protectee in any fashion. Should that person violate the protective order by attempting to make contact, he or she will face criminal charges.
Under Pennsylvania law, minors can take out protective orders, and they can be named in PFAs, too. In both situations, they will require assistance from a parent or legal guardian—either filing the PFA or accompanying the accused minor to their hearing. So, while it may be heartbreaking for a parent to find themselves in either of these positions, know that it is equally possible to protect one child who has been victimized by a sibling or to support the one who is named in the order.
Helping You Help Your Family
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his expert team at the Lento Law Firm are well versed in handling complicated, tricky cases involving protective orders, harassment, abuse, and family law. They can help you during this troubling time for your family.
Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or contact them via this form to tell them about your circumstances and to ask any questions they may have.
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