In Trouble with the Law

Harmless Prank or Serious Crime? What Parents Can Do if Their Teen Gets in Trouble with the Law

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Doing dumb things in high school and college is practically a rite of passage. Unfortunately, some things that are seen by teens as “harmless fun” can turn into serious problems fairly quickly. For example, a homecoming or senior prank goes too far and affects a student’s ability to graduate with her class. Or a good decision to walk, rather than drive, home after drinking at a college party results in a public intoxication arrest. Or one sext containing a “private” photo sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend ends up passed around and leads to a child pornography charge.

The decisions teens and young adults make and the consequences of those decisions can have a lasting impact on their lives, as evidenced by the following real-life examples.

One fun night = one week in jail

Stephanie* is a freshman at an out-of-state college and gets herself into trouble with the law when she is out one night and a party prank goes wrong. She has no attorney, doesn’t contact her parents when the issue occurs, and ends up spending one week in jail waiting for a public defender to have time to meet with her.

ARAG Network Attorney Kevin Nelson of Illinois is brought on to take the case once Stephanie’s parents get involved. “Public defenders are so overworked. In these situations, you want a private attorney who will be able to advocate for your child and focus on her case,” says Nelson. “The biggest mistake I see parents make is not engaging soon enough with a private attorney who can proactively work toward an outcome in the best interest of their child.”

Stephanie is guilty of her crime, but Nelson advocates on her behalf and gets her transported back to her home state so that she can serve her time and any probation where she has a family support system.

The past is always with us

Matt* was 19 years old the night that he tried to intervene when a bunch of young teens were being loud and disruptive outside his apartment. After asking them multiple times to quiet down, he took the leader of the group to the apartment manager’s office. The teen’s parents filed charges against Matt for assault against their child. Matt was issued a public defender and didn’t question it when he was advised to plead guilty to a simple assault charge.

Fast-forward to today. When Matt tried to sign-up to coach his son’s soccer team, he was told he couldn’t because of the assault charge still on his record from more than 15 years ago. That’s when ARAG Network Attorney Laura Budd of North Carolina was brought in to advise Matt on the situation.

“One single incident as a teenager redefined this man’s life, even if he didn’t realize it until a background check years later,” says Budd.

Budd added that most parents and teens don’t know what questions to ask, so she isn’t surprised that Matt didn’t question the public defender’s advice. But Budd echoes Nelson’s opinion that public defenders are overburdened and don’t have time to try each case.

How to be prepared if your kids end up in trouble with the law

Keep these four things in mind so you are prepared if your son or daughter has a lapse in judgment that may result in legal consequences:

1. Don't try to handle this alone.

If your child is in trouble with the law, this is more than an opportunity for parental discipline. This is serious and can have long-lasting effects on your child’s future, into adulthood. You need professional help. An experienced attorney with knowledge of the juvenile justice system will be able to advocate for your child’s best present and future interests.

2. Only speak with an attorney present.

If you receive a phone call letting you know that your child has been arrested, let them know that your child will be consulting with an attorney before speaking to the school or law enforcement. Do not let them speak to anyone or make a written statement until the attorney is present.

3. Disable social media accounts.

If your child gets in trouble with the law, shut down all his or her social media sites immediately. Prosecutors are patrolling social media sites to see what the kids are doing/saying/posting after the alleged crime and before the case goes to trial. Posts that reference the case (whether bragging about it or making derogatory comments about others involved) can result in additional charges, extension of a penalty and can even be considered a violation of parole.

4. Start paying more attention to who your kid associates with.

Sometimes kids can be found guilty by association if they get mixed up in the wrong crowd. These children also tend to make repeat visits to the juvenile court system.

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