You see stories on the news about juveniles in trouble with the law or you have casual conversations with friends about “rumors” involving kids who made serious mistakes and got kicked out of school. Based on what you hear, you talk to your child about how to stay out of trouble. Without nagging, you warn your child not to vape, drink or engage in sexual activity before he or she is ready to do so. The problem is that no matter how many times you talk to your child about how to avoid danger, a lot happens (and is forgotten) when your child faces peer pressure. For parents and teens, things can go sideways fast if police become involved in a situation. It’s hard to know what to do and how to respond in the event your child faces juvenile criminal charges.
Because every situation is different, here’s a helpful list for parents (and students, too):
What NOT to do if your child is facing juvenile criminal charges or a police inquiry
- Never talk to the police without a lawyer. Before you or your child talk to the police about anything substantive, hire a juvenile criminal defense attorney. A juvenile criminal defense attorney can gather all available information, assess the situation and then determine what, if anything, should be shared with the police. Remember, anything your child says is admissible evidence in court.
- Never think that hiring a lawyer makes your child look guilty. Rest assured, the police are accustomed to lawyers calling on behalf of their clients. Again, lawyers exist to guard against violations of constitutional rights.
- Never be disrespectful or rude. It’s essential that you and your child are courteous. Rudeness or perceived hostility will only escalate what is likely already a tense situation. Keep in mind, it’s ok to decline to talk to the police. Furthermore, make sure that your child understands that it’s okay to deny permission to search a car, a backpack or a cell phone when asked by law enforcement. Just be polite when doing so.
- Never destroy evidence. As tempting as it may be, destruction of evidence after you or your child is aware of a pending criminal investigation may constitute tampering with evidence and result in additional criminal charges. Although a child (or adult) is not required to cooperate with an investigation, there is a big difference between asserting a privacy right and destroying evidence. The former is a constitutional protected right; the latter is likely a crime.
- Never assume you have all the facts. No matter how open your relationship with your child is, your child probably hasn’t told you the entire story. All kids make mistakes and panic. All kids feel regret and embarrassment. And all kids wrestle with whether to disclose who did what or who knows about what. Parents who claim certainty as to whether their child did or didn’t do something are setting themselves up for surprise–and perhaps even disappointment down the road.
- Never assume the police or school officials will contact you before speaking with your child during the school day. The law is fairly clear on this point: school staff can question students. If school officials have a reasonable basis for believing that a student broke school rules, they can talk to your child, even with the police present, without notifying you ahead of time. Make sure your child understands that it’s okay to ask to have parents (and even a lawyer) present before having a conversation about anything that might result in juvenile criminal charges.
- Never assume your child’s property at school can’t be searched. Although students have a constitutionally protected right to privacy at school, this right is limited compared to the right to privacy outside of school/off school grounds. Students have a privacy right in their personal property like backpacks or cell phones. Before conducting any search, school officials must have reasonable basis for believing that evidence of a school policy violation may be present. However, school administrators can search a locker or computer without permission, provided they have reasonable suspicion, because the school owns the property, not the student.
- Never text about what happened. When a student faces school discipline or juvenile criminal charges, be careful about what you put in writing. A criminal investigation is not the time to text the story to the PTA or neighborhood. No matter how badly you want to defend your child, a criminal case is a time when silence is golden. The same principles apply to your child as well. Text messages and Snaps have a way of making their way into the wrong hands or being misinterpreted.
- Never believe anyone who claims to know all the answers right away. At the beginning of any criminal case, there is a lot of uncertainty. What juvenile criminal charges will be filed? Will my child go to jail? What’s going to happen? It takes time for the landscape to become clear to even the most experienced criminal defense attorney.
- Never be afraid to seek mental health support for your child. Obtaining mental health support for you or your child is not a sign of weakness. Sometimes we all need someone to talk to in a safe and confidential setting. Criminal cases can be especially isolating because most lawyers instruct clients not to discuss the case with anyone. Furthermore, few people can understand the stress and anxiety of a criminal case. It’s ok to get support.
If your child is facing juvenile criminal charges, we are here to help. Our experienced juvenile criminal defense attorneys have helped thousands of individuals in crisis. Call us today at 216-294-2859.