All too often stories appear on the news of children breaking the law in some fashion. Some bring weapons to school, others are caught shoplifting at malls, and there are those who get into serious fights. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2012, there were 3,941 arrests for every 100,000 youths ages 10 through 17 in the United States. Although the overall juvenile arrest rate was 38 percent lower in 2012 than in 1980, it is nevertheless still a shocking number.
The question that is most often asked with regard to juvenile arrest cases is who is responsible when a child breaks the law? The answer is different depending on the specific facts of the situation that led up to the arrest and on a number of factors.
Determining Who Is Responsible In Juvenile Criminal Cases
The first factor to consider in answering this question is whether the child is being prosecuted for breaking a criminal law or sued for something civilly. If the case involved criminal activities, a parent may not be prosecuted since they were not the actor in the crime and as such lacked the intent for the crime to occur. However, under circumstances where the crime only occurred as a result of the parent’s lack of care for the child, the parent may face charges.
The child will also face criminal charges based on his or her circumstances, including:
- Age of the child
- Demonstration of knowing right from wrong
- Prior record
For example, in a situation where the child was so young that the incident was a clear mistake, he or she may not be criminally charged. However, if the child is old enough to comprehend right from wrong, he or she may be charged as a child and face juvenile sentencing. Such juvenile sentences are typically lighter than adult sentences. If the sentence involves incarceration, the child will generally be sent to a facility for juveniles. On the other hand, if the child demonstrates a clear understanding that he or she did something wrong, especially in more serious crimes such as murder, the child may be tried and sentenced as an adult.
Situations Where Parents May Face Criminal Charges
In cases where the parent began actually aiding their child in the commission of the crime, both the child and the parent may face criminal charges. Although the parent is charged as an adult, the child may be charged as a juvenile. However, in most cases, the courts are starting to recognize these children as being well aware that what they have done is legally wrong. As a result, more often than not, these children get charged as adults alongside their parents.
If your child is facing criminal charges, it is important to immediately consult with an experienced criminal attorney to assist you and protect the rights of your child.