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What to do when your child is arrested for drug possession

Drug and alcohol related offenses are serious crimes. For a juvenile this will include many substances that would be considered legal if they were possessed by an adult. While marijuana and alcohol are often the “drug of choice” by juveniles, an alarming number of cases also involve prescription medication and inhalants. The good news, however, is that over the past fifteen years a concerted effort has been made to treat the possession of these illegal substances more like an addiction and less like a crime.


Do remain calm

Your first reaction may be to “go off” on your child, but it is important to stay calm. In some cases drug and alcohol use may be the result of a much larger problem that could be affecting your child. Even the best juveniles experiment from time to time and it is not necessarily a reflection on your parenting skills.

Do contact an attorney certified in juvenile law

While Juvenile Law may be similar to Criminal Law, they generally serve two different purposes. Juvenile Law tries to find a solution that focuses on what is in the best interest of the juvenile. This may be a treatment program, which could include placement in either an inpatient or outpatient treatment facility, or something as simple as preventive counseling. Criminal Law tends to focus on the punishment of an offender and the treatment of a possible addiction problem is only a secondary goal. You need to hire an attorney who is familiar will the juvenile laws and procedures of your state.

Do be proactive is finding possible treatment alternatives for your juvenile

The juvenile courts tend to be open to many types of treatment solutions. Generally, the courts will attempt to exhaust all treatment possibilities available to them before incarcerating a juvenile. However, they do not have a endless supply of sources and funds. Parents need to be proactive in finding alternative programs tailored to meet their juveniles needs and in providing the necessary information about these programs so that the prosecutor and the judge can feel comfortable agreeing to have a juvenile participate in a given treatment agenda.

Do set a good example for your juvenile

Show your juvenile that you understand the seriousness of the offense and encourage and support them to participate in any potential treatment. Many juveniles fail because they have parents who say “it’s just marijuana, or it’s just alcohol” which sends a negative message to the juvenile that this is really no big deal. For some juveniles, they will grow out of their use of illegal substances, but for many, they will be the young adults who fill our prison system.


Do not give the police consent to search your home or vehicles

The police do not have the right to search your property without a warrant. Under certain circumstances if the police find evidence of possible drug dealing by your juvenile, even if you are unaware of it, your property may be seized and forfeited to the state. You will have to prove that you are an innocent property owner to get it back.

Do not have your juvenile agree to cooperate in being a “snitch” against others

Very often the police will try to have your juvenile work as an informant to catch the “bigger fish.” The police are placing your juvenile in a potentially life threatening situation. The police will make “unwritten” promises that they never intend to keep. The only deals which are ever had honored by the police, occur when the prosecutor and defense attorney entered into a written agreement.

Do not take the punishment possibilities of a juvenile illegal substance possession case lightly

Even though treatment and rehabilitation is the cornerstone of a juvenile substance abuse case, large quantities of drugs or evidence of possible drug dealing can result in long terms of incarceration similar to adult offenders. Multiple offenses may even result in your juvenile being certified into the adult criminal justice system.

Do not shun your responsibility as a parent

Even though the courts and prosecutors are increasingly more open to treatment programs for illegal substance possession cases, this does not mean that your juvenile will just be given a slap on the wrist. The courts require active participation in all treatment programs from your juvenile and very often from you as well. The goal of the juvenile system is to stop the addiction of substance abuse before it has lifelong consequences.

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The juvenile justice system has made a concerted effort to treat illegal substance possession offenses as an opportunity to stop potential drug addiction problems before they can take hold in our young adults. It takes a group effort from the juvenile, parents, probation, and the court officers to make this happen.

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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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