Parental Responsibility for Juvenile Crime

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 What Is Juvenile Crime?

Juvenile crimes are crimes that are committed by people under the age of eighteen. In several states, the maximum age in which a person may be considered to have committed a juvenile crime is sixteen or seventeen years old. Most states consider a child aged fourteen or older to be capable of intentionally committing a crime. However, each state has its own set of laws that applies to crimes committed by juveniles. These laws typically provide a lighter sentence for the offender.

Children aged seven and younger are generally deemed incapable of committing a crime, due to the fact that they are considered to be too young to fully understand the difference between right and wrong. However, young children may still be held liable for committing the crime of homicide. A court may actually try a juvenile offender in the adult criminal system if the crime was particularly egregious, or if the juvenile is a repeat offender. An example of this would be a juvenile being tried as an adult for rape, homicide, or repeated theft.

The juvenile court system is different from the adult criminal system. As such, there are different rules and laws for both systems. The juvenile court system is civil, rather than criminal. Juvenile offenders are typically accused of committing a delinquent act, as opposed to being formally charged. Additionally, the court may choose a punishment best suited to the circumstances as opposed to being bound to a state statute for a specific crime.

When Might a Parent Be Held Liable for Juvenile Crimes?

Parents may be held liable for their juvenile child’s crimes, depending on the state. Some states maintain Parental Accountability or Parental Responsibility Laws which hold parents responsible for any crimes committed by their child. The reasoning behind such laws is that parents have a legal duty to supervise and prevent their children from committing crimes and becoming delinquent citizens.

Another motivating factor for such laws is to decrease the juvenile crime rate. Some common examples of crimes that these accountability or responsibility laws may cover include, but are not be limited to the following:

  • Internet Access, Hacking, and Other Computer Crimes: This is a newer area of law due to technological advancements. Computer crimes occur when a computer is used to facilitate traditional crimes and illegal activity such as fraud, revenge porn, and white collar crimes; or, when an offender targets their victim’s computer systems to copy, interrupt, destroy, or alter those systems. Parents may be held liable if their child commits any such crimes, with examples of violations including sexting and child pornography distributed electronically, and resulting in heavy legal consequences;
  • Firearm Access: If a child used a firearm when committing their crime, their parent may be held responsible if they owned or controlled the firearm. The parent may not be held liable if the firearm was obtained elsewhere. Generally, the firearm in question must have been owned or controlled by the parent;
  • Car Accidents: Parents could be held responsible if their child causes an accident using their vehicle, and that accident results in injuries. Again, the car used in the accident must belong to the parent of the child in order for the parent to be held responsible; and
  • Property Damage: If any property damage results from an intentional act that the child committed, their parents may be held responsible for that damage.

As previously mentioned, juvenile courts are civil, not criminal. Further, the courts may choose a punishment that they feel best suits the child. Such punishments could include:

  • A lecture;
  • Confinement in a juvenile detention facility;
  • Mandatory schooling;
  • Community service;
  • Probation or parole;
  • Significant fines; and/or
  • A record of the incident being placed on the child’s criminal record.

When the child’s parent is held responsible for their child’s crimes, punishments could include:

  • Payment of fines and court fees;
  • Payment of costs associated with the child’s detention, treatment, and supervision;
  • Restitution payments made to the victims;
  • Participation in community service with their child; and/or
  • Jail time.

Again, different states have different laws concerning parental responsibility and accountability. It is important to check your state’s laws to determine how comprehensive they may be.

Can Parents Be Held For Their Child’s Cyberbullying?

As previously mentioned, parents may be held responsible for any computer crimes their child commits. Whether parents may be held liable for cyberbullying is still an unclear area of this fairly recent area of law. As with most issues, these laws vary by state. Some jurisdictions issue fines against the parents of a child who has bullied others.

If a state has some sort of Parental Accountability or Parental Responsibility laws in place, there will likely be potential criminal liability for cyberbullying. The chances of such liability is greatly increased if the victim of the bullying is severely injured, or dies.

It is important that parents speak to their children about cyberbullying. There are also monitoring apps and software that can be downloaded onto a child’s internet devices. This could restrict and observe a child’s electronic activity, and help determine if a child is participating in cyberbullying. With this information, parents may be able to step in and stop the bullying before it goes any further.

Do I Need an Attorney for Parental Responsibility for Juvenile Crime?

If your minor child has been charged with a crime, it is imperative that you contact a skilled and knowledgeable juvenile attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney can inform you of your state’s laws regarding parental responsibility, as well as educate you on your child’s rights and defenses. Additionally, an attorney can provide representation in court.

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