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How to protect your child when they are arrested for a crime

Being questioned and detained by the police, be it as an adult or as a juvenile, is a serious matter. Changes in juvenile law over the past thirty years have made the consequences of a juvenile adjudication nearly, and in some cases as serious, as an adult conviction. It is important that you take the necessary steps to protect your child if they are arrested for a crime, whether it be a misdemeanor or a federal offense.


Do contact an attorney who is certified in juvenile law

Juvenile law may be similar to criminal law, but there are critical differences between the two types of law in every stage of a criminal offense. Generally speaking, juveniles posses greater statutory rights than adult, primarily because of their tender age and lessened maturity level. Only an attorney well versed in juvenile law will know how to fully protect and enforce these rights.

Do educate your child on his or her right to remain silent

Your child is not required to answer questions asked of them by either school officials or by the police. The police will try to threaten, coerce, and intimidate your child in order to have him or her answer their questions. Courts even allow the police to lie about witnesses and evidence in their efforts to obtain information from a juvenile. As a parent, you do not posses the ability to invoke your child’s right to remain silent. Only your child can invoke his or her right to remain silent. If your child voluntarily consents to speak with school officials or the police, under most circumstances the statement given will be admissible against the child. Additionally, in most states the police are not required to notify you before questioning your child. Please educated your child to unequivocally, say “I want an attorney before I answer any questions. Period.”

Do educate your child on his or her right to say no to an unreasonable search

The reasonableness of a particular search is generally fact specific. But one thing about any search which is perfectly clear, is if you voluntarily consent to the search it will be allowed. Once again, the police will try to threaten, coerce or intimidate your child to make them “consent” to the requested search. Educate your child to always say no to any search of their self, their property or their vehicle. The police may still be allowed to search the aforementioned items but they will have to possess at least a reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or in some cases, a search warrant to have the search be justified under the law.

Do know the possible punishment any collateral consequences

Juvenile adjudications may be treated very harshly and have several serious collateral consequences. In most states, if an offense is deemed severe enough, your child may be tried as an adult and may be punished, under most circumstances, as if he or she was originally charged as an adult. Additionally, even within the juvenile system some states have hybrid punishment possibilities, which may result in a very harsh sentence. Collateral consequences include using a child’s juvenile record to enhance a charge or punishment in the adult system, possible lifetime sexual offender registration requirements, the suspension of a juvenile’s drivers license, the ability for a juvenile to enlist in the military and the right to have their juvenile records sealed.

Do stay calm and listen to your attorney

Generally, juveniles if they are detained will, by law, be kept safe and away from the adult inmates. The rules pertaining to bail often vary from that of adult offenders and juveniles are usually required to have a hearing concerning their detention and release within 72 hours of being incarcerated. Listen to all that your attorney tells you and not just the parts you want to hear. What you may think are unimportant or minor details, may in fact be critical to your child’s case.


Do not agree to allow the police to question or search your child or any of your property without a warrant

The police are not your friend and they do not ultimately decide the fate of your child’s case. Most cases are “solved” by the police because someone talks.The police may choose whether or not to file a charge against your child, but it is the prosecutor who will decide if the State has enough evidence to proceed to court. If the case does make it to court, it will be up to the judge or the jury to decide if an offense has occurred beyond a reasonable doubt.

Do not hire an attorney who who lacks certification in juvenile law

This included criminal law attorneys. The law has become very specialized and only a person who has been certified in juvenile law will be familiar with the special rules and procedures afforded to juvenile suspects. An attorney who is unfamiliar with the differences between juvenile and criminal law may very well overlook and not preserve the added protections that most juveniles are afforded.

Do not take the punishment possibilities of a juvenile offense lightly

Juvenile law has some very serious punishment consequences and in some cases a juvenile child can be treated the same as an adult offender. The punishment levels for serious criminal offenses in the juvenile system, depending on the state, can result in sentences of 10, 20, 40 years and even up to life sentence in a correctional facility. If a child is adjudicated for a sexual offense, he or she could be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of their life.

Do not listen to family members or friends who think they know the system

Juvenile law is vastly different from years ago. Offenses that would have resulted in school suspensions or swats, now result in alternative school placement and criminal charges being brought in the juvenile justice system. Schools have adopted, for right or wrong, a no tolerance policy for drugs, weapons, bullying and fights (assaults). Offenses are treated more seriously than ever before and advice should only be taken from legal professionals who actually work within the system.

Jumping cartoon

Juvenile cases can have very serious consequences and they are not to be taken lightly. It is very important that your child is educated about his or her rights and does not allow the police or school officials to disregard them. If your child has the misfortune of getting caught up in the juvenile system it is imperative to you as their parent to consult legal help with an attorney who is certified in juvenile law. It is not “just a juvenile case,” and should be treated as with the seriousness that you would want if you were charged with a criminal offense.

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Brian J WillettJuvenile Defense Attorney

I am a graduate of the University of Iowa and Memphis State University School of Law. I received my undergraduate degree in Biology/Education and served as a teaching and research assistant while attending the University of Iowa. At Memphis Stat...

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