Are Parents Responsible for Children’s Crimes?
Juvenile crime refers to any crime that is committed by a child under the age of 18. There are sets of laws that address these crimes, typically heard in juvenile court. In some cases, juveniles commit crimes that are so serious they are tried as adults.
No matter the crime, parents may be left wondering if they are responsible for what their children have done. In fact, they may be held responsible in some cases. However, the consequences of their child’s crime may differ than if the parent was charged with the crime themselves.
Parental Accountability Laws
In some states, there are what are known as Parental Accountability Laws. The laws are based on theories, including that parents have the duty to prevent their children from breaking the law, and that holding parents accountable is a way to deter juveniles from committing crimes. It is not to say that a parent will be held responsible for any crime their child commits.
Parents, though, have been held responsible for children who commit computer crimes, including hacking. This is because parents are generally responsible for online activities that occur in their homes. Parents have also been held accountable for children violating curfew, damaging property and other delinquent crimes.
Consequences of Parental Accountability Laws
When parents are held responsible for their children’s behaviors, they are not charged instead of their children, but they are charged in accordance with these specific laws. When a parent is found guilty, they may face:
- Restitution to the victim
- Court Costs
- Participation in community service
- Jail time
Two common juvenile crimes a parent may be held accountable for are vandalism and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Understanding What Vandalism Really Is
Vandalism occurs when a person willfully destroys or damages the property of another. It covers any physical blemish, defacement or marring of property. Even putting a sticker on someone’s car can count as vandalism. Other common acts include:
- Carving initials or words into a public bench or tree, writing on a wall or door, otherwise marking an object
- Keying a car
- Egging someone’s home or property
- Knocking down grave markers
Vandalism causes some type of property damage. It doesn’t have to be serious or lack an ability to be repaired, but it may. There are many levels of vandalism, and your child could be charged accordingly.
Often, children and teenagers may be unaware that what they’re doing constitutes vandalism, or they may simply be feeling rebellious. Regardless, and judge may find them guilty of the crime.
In order to be found guilty, three elements must be proven:
- Physical Damage. Damage may include carving, etching, tagging, graffiti and other forms of defacement. Damage does not have to be lasting, nor does it have to impact functionality.
- Ownership. The property that is damaged must be owned by someone else. For example, you can graffiti your own home or vehicle and not be charged with vandalism. However, parents may bring charges against their own child for vandalism of their own house, since the child doesn’t own the house.
- Intentionality. You cannot accidentally vandalize property. To be charged with the crime, you must have damaged the property willfully or on purpose. Obviously, it’s hard to “accidentally” spray paint your name on a wall, so this is rarely an issue.
Possible Penalties for Vandalism
Vandalism is not typically a serious crime unless the damaged property was worth several thousand dollars. Most acts of vandalism are charged as misdemeanors and carry relatively minor penalties.
That said, the more severe the damage and the more expensive the property, the stiffer the penalties. The most common penalties are:
- Fines ranging from several hundred dollars to thousands.
- Restitution to the owner of the property that covers the cost of repairing or removing the damage.
- Probation is another possibility when a person is convicted of vandalism.
For minors charged with vandalism, community service and other lighter consequences are often handed down. Your Atlanta criminal defense attorney can work with the prosecutor for a lesser sentence.
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
Another seemingly minor crime teenagers often find themselves charged with is possession of drug paraphernalia. Drug paraphernalia describes items that are used in connection with illegal drugs. Paraphernalia may be used to distribute drugs or ingest them. Federal law says that a law enforcement officer can determine if the tool or item is illegal by determining how it is typically used in the community.
In many of these cases, the minor has no actual drugs on them, or has even used drugs before. Rather, they have the drug paraphernalia because it’s “cool.” In other cases, there may be a mistake regarding the arrest, especially considering the fact that a lot of drug paraphernalia can be used for legal purposes.
Examples of drug paraphernalia include:
- Water pipes
- “Roach clips”
- Miniature spoons
- Freebase kits
- Scales and balances
- Testing equipment
- Plastic bags or balloons
Penalties for a Drug Paraphernalia Conviction
If you are convicted of a drug paraphernalia charge, the punishment can vary. For minors, drug paraphernalia charges often result in fines and community service, especially for a first conviction. Because possession of drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor, serious consequences aren’t often handed down.
An Atlanta criminal defense lawyer can lobby for lesser sentences for your minor, and may be able to keep this kind of conviction off their record.
How an Atlanta Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
If your child has committed a crime in Atlanta and you face the possibility of being held responsible, an attorney can help you. Reach out to our office to set up a case evaluation with one of our Atlanta criminal defense lawyers.
We will review the details of your child’s case and advise you of your rights and theirs. Call now to schedule a no-cost consultation and learn more about your options. Our team will be happy to assist you in any way they can.