This article was previously posted by Daytona Beach attorney and mother, Jeri Delgado, on Daytona Beach Mom.
As parents, we never want to think our children are doing something illegal. But the reality is that children do break the law. It is a part of childhood, particularly the teenage years. The teenage years are filled with moments of making mistakes – and learning from them. Even the best behaved child may cross the line and find themselves in trouble with the law. As parents, we need to guide our children along so that whatever mistakes they make in these years do not have repercussions that last a lifetime. Here is what you need to know to educate your children if the day ever comes that they are in trouble with the law.
“This is not ‘pee wee justice,’ said Aaron Delgado. “Your children are being faced with life altering choices and consequences at an age where they cannot drive, vote, or even be counted on to do their homework. It is critical you take the matter seriously and provide your children with the best counsel possible – do not be fooled by the exterior facade of juvenile court – the cheesy child drawings, etc., that adorn the waiting room bely how deadly serious this process is. The case is style in re CHILD or ‘in the matter of the night Child’ and the idea is to try to help the child. Many judges and prosecutors lose sight of this particularly when they are moved from an adult criminal docket.”
The police have a job to do. They are not your friend. Do not explain yourself, even if innocent or if you think the police are making a mistake, as anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Wait until you consult with a lawyer. Likewise “do not leave your children at the mercy of school officials or expect a guidance counselor or principal to act as a stand in parent or legal counsel,” said Aaron Delgado. “Do not let your children speak to the police without an experienced criminal defense attorney – what they say can be used against them.”
Teach your child to respect the police. Do not argue, taunt, or show disrespect. The best way to teach your child to respect the police is for you to set the example. If you are ever pulled over make sure to demonstrate the conduct in interacting with the police that you want your child to have.
Tell your child to ask if they are free to leave. If your child is not free to go, ask for a lawyer (and not a parent as police may continue to question). Don’t sign anything or agree to anything without talking to a lawyer first. Some people think it will make them look “guilty” if they ask for an attorney. However, if you or your child is being detained or questioned by a police officer, any friendly encounter has turned into an encounter where your child is accused of a crime and could have very significant legal consequences. If this is the case, it is unlikely your child will be able to “talk his/her way out of trouble.” Instead, anything they say can and will be used against them. So to keep it simple, ask for a lawyer.
As a parent, you may want to intervene. Remember, you are not a lawyer and may end up doing more harm than good. For instance, your child may be lie in order to please you while communicating to the police because they want to hide the truth from you. This can end up hurting their case. Instead of treading uncertain water, hire the best attorney you can afford for your child and only talk about your case with your lawyer.
After hiring a lawyer, make sure your child understands he must be absolutely forthcoming with his attorney but has no obligation, and in fact it isn’t advisable, to discuss his case with anyone outside his attorney. This includes friends, cell mates, and even you. A common mistake juveniles take is talking with others about their case. Avoid talking over the phone in jail, as jail calls are recorded. Do not talk to anyone in jail. Law enforcement can place known informants to encourage cell mates to talk about the details of their case. A lawyer is the best person to help your family deal with the police.
Teach your child about the fourth amendment and what it means today. It means that in order for a police officer to conduct a search it must be based on probable cause or on a warrant. So if a police officer pulls you over, asks to see a cell phone, or walks up to your house, make sure that your child knows to always contact a parent before allowing the police to conduct a search.
Although you do have the right to remain silent, it can be tricky to assert this right. Thus, the safest course of action is to assert that you want a lawyer. If the police keep talking, continue to affirmatively ask for a lawyer until the police stop asking questions. Remember, even the best behaved children sometimes act up. Be prepared for the worst case scenario before it happens.