What To Do When Your Teen Gets Arrested

If your adolescent is in trouble with the law (e.g., for possession of drugs, public intoxication, theft, etc.), then it is understandable that you feel panic-stricken. You are probably very unsure of what’s to come in terms of legal ramifications – and your teen’s future. Things will be different now for both you and your adolescent. 

Below you will find some important information that will help you to understand – and deal effectively with – this situation. Being well-informed should alleviate some of the stress you’re feeling as the mother or father of a teenager in legal trouble:

1. First of all, make sure your adolescent is safe. Is he jail? Is he in a safe jail? Some communities have safe jails, other communities don’t! If it is safe, you should leave him in jail for the night to teach him a valuable lesson. If he is unsafe, get him out as soon as possible.

2. Don't hire an attorney for the small stuff (e.g., truancy, curfew violation). If it is a minor issue, there’s no need to pay good money for an attorney. Also, most juvenile courts provide a public defender.

3. If you feel that you should hire an attorney, but can’t afford one, there are some options. Most attorneys offer free consultations, and if you do enough research beforehand and ask the right questions, you could be able to prepare yourself to the point where you do not need to actually hire the attorney. You also have the option of being represented by a public defender (although these attorneys are often unable to give your case as much time or personal attention as a private attorney).

4. Throughout the legal process, it is important that you keep things in perspective and resist the urge to panic. Remember that your adolescent is still a minor, and as such, the penalties she will receive are likely to be far less severe than if she were charged as a grown-up. Thus, this incident probably doesn’t have the ability to ruin her future. Even though this is a disturbing situation, simply remind yourself that this is not the worst that could happen and that your family will pull through. It’s definitely not the end of the world.

5. Don't lecture or yell at your adolescent as added punishment. He’s already received a consequence (i.e., getting arrested). This problem is your adolescent's problem, not yours. Let him take responsibility for his own mistake.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

6. Regardless of the crime your adolescent allegedly committed, it is important that you take the issue seriously. All crimes, no matter how small, have the potential to wreak havoc on the family. Also, teens who begin to commit a series of “small crimes” now often graduate to larger crimes later.

7. Find out what actually happened. Get your adolescent to tell you the whole story, and base your actions based on the severity of the crime.

8. Stay objective and calm. Finally someone else is reprimanding your adolescent (e.g., police officer, probation officer, judge). This is a good learning experience for an out-of-control adolescent. You have every right to be worried, but don’t allow your emotions to cloud your judgment. You’re probably feeling hurt and disappointed – and that’s all completely understandable. But it’s important that you keep your head together for the sake of your teenager. At all times, remain calm and collected in order to protect your adolescent’s rights and to be the mom or dad she needs you to be.  You have every right to be disappointed, but don’t allow that disappointment to prevent you from helping your adolescent right her wrongs.

9. Your adolescent’s juvenile criminal record will be hidden from public view once he reaches adulthood, but that doesn’t mean that your problems as a parent are over with. While first offenses are often not punished very harshly, the legal system makes up for this leniency by punishing repeat offenders much more severely.  Also, juvenile offenders are more likely to become adult offenders if their underlying issues (e.g., emotional, psychological, family-related, etc.) are not addressed. Thus, be sure to provide your adolescent with the care, counseling, or discipline he needs as soon as possible. If you don’t, the law breaking habit could stay with him into adulthood, where it will carry much stiffer penalties.

10. When your teenager has been arrested, be sure that she receives fair treatment throughout the legal process – no matter what she has been arrested for. A juvenile offender has rights too!

Brief Summary of the Juvenile Justice System—
  • A juvenile case gets started when a prosecutor or probation officer files a civil petition, charging the teen with violating a criminal statute and asking that the court determine that the teen is delinquent. If the charges are proved and a delinquency determination is made, the adolescent offender comes under the court’s broad powers. At that point, the juvenile court has the authority to do what it considers to be in the best interest of the teen.
  • Each state has special courts called juvenile courts to deal with teens who have been accused of violating a criminal statute. The proceedings are civil as opposed to criminal. So, instead of being formally charged with a crime, teenage offenders are accused of committing a delinquent act.
  • Juvenile courts have a broad range of sentencing options called "disposition orders" if they find that a teenager is delinquent. Courts can reprimand the young person in a variety of ways (e.g., incarceration in a traditional juvenile detention facility, house arrest, community service, etc.). More importantly, juvenile courts can order a whole range of consequences that do not involve confinement (e.g., counseling, curfews, probation, etc.). 
  • Juvenile delinquency cases involve teens who have committed crimes (i.e., if the crime had been committed by an adult, the matter would be tried in regular criminal court). But the procedures in juvenile court differ significantly from those in adult criminal court. Many juvenile cases involve “status offenses.” A status offense is a “violation” (rather than a “crime”) that only applies to minors (e.g., truancy, curfew violations, running away, underage drinking). 
  • Law enforcement agencies refer approximately two-thirds of all arrested teens to a court with juvenile jurisdiction for further processing. The court may decide to divert some teens away from the formal justice system to other agencies for service. Prosecutors may file some juvenile cases directly in criminal court. 
  • Most states consider kids under the age of 7 to be incapable of determining the difference between right and wrong. So, young people under the age of 7 are usually excused from responsibility for acts they commit. Instead, moms and dads may have to pay compensation to anyone victimized by the acts of their youngster. 
  • Most states regard young people 14 and older as capable of forming criminal intent, so the majority of cases involving teens from 14 to 18 years of age are adjudicated in juvenile court. In certain circumstances, a juvenile can be tried in adult criminal court. 
  • Roughly 50% of all juvenile arrests are made for theft, simple assault, drug abuse, disorderly conduct, and curfew violations.
  • Some juvenile cases are transferred to adult court in a procedure called a "waiver." Typically, juvenile cases that are subject to waiver involve serious offenses (e.g., rape, murder) or teens who have been in trouble before. Juvenile offenders have a right to a hearing to determine if their case should be transferred to adult court. 
  • To be eligible for juvenile court, a teen must be a considered a "juvenile" under state law. In most states, the maximum age for using juvenile court is 18. In a few states, the age is 16 or 17 (in Wyoming, the maximum age is set at 19).
  • When a teen is suspected of violating a criminal statute, the procedures are much different from those used in adult criminal court. Police, prosecutors, intake officials and judges all have broad discretion to take more informal steps in handling the case. As a result, many teenage offenders never reach the point of a formal adjudicatory hearing. Similarly, the constitutional rights of teens are different from those of grown-ups who have been accused of committing a crime (e.g., although teenage offenders have the right to an attorney at an adjudicatory hearing, in most states they do not have the right to have their case heard by a jury).

No mother or father wants to think about the day that phone call may come – the one telling parents that their adolescent has been arrested. The days and weeks that follow can be complicated and worrisome as you and your adolescent have to face the consequences. Finding ways to cope with this difficult situation is critical to your child’s long-term, law-abiding behavior.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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