Are Parents Responsible For Crimes Committed By Underage Children?
By: Mark Diaz
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Are Parents Responsible For Crimes Committed By Underage Children?
Parents take on an enormous amount of responsibility when they have kids. This is especially true considering the legal, moral, and financial obligations involved with raising a healthy, well-rounded child. However, there is another aspect of parental responsibility that you might not realize when it comes to criminal activity by minors under the age of 18.
The Texas Family Code provides that parents can be held liable for crimes committed by underage children in some situations. When you consider the fact that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) apprehends almost 24,000 juveniles every year, application of the statute should be cause for concern as a parent.
Fortunately, the law does not put parents in the same exact shoes as their children when it comes to punishment for a juvenile offense. There are still implications about parental responsibility to note since they affect your financial interests and could lead to civil liability. As a result, families are wise to rely on Galveston County criminal defense lawyers for help with cases involving offenses by minors. You might also find it useful to review a parent’s role in crimes committed by underage children.
Overview of Texas Parental Responsibility Law
As mentioned, the statute is civil in nature and puts parents on the hook for how their child’s criminal activity causes financial loss to the victim. You should note the following points and main provisions of the law:
- The parental responsibility statute only applies to adoptive or biological parents or those who have a duty of control and discipline over the child – such as a court-appointing custodian or guardian.
- Parents are liable for property damage only; the law does not cover bodily injury or physical harm caused by the child’s criminal acts.
- You can only be found liable for your child’s acts when they are the result of your own negligence in controlling and disciplining him or her. However, parents may also be responsible for the willful and malicious conduct of a minor aged 10 to 17 years old.
- The parental responsibility law puts a cap on liability, so a parent will not be forced to pay more than $25,000 per incident, court costs, and attorney’s fees.
A special provision applies when the property damage is to a hotel: Parents may be liable for multiple incidents of willful and malicious conduct by their child. The cap is still $25,000, but it could add up if the occurrences are in separate rooms or on different days.
How to Avoid Liability for Your Child’s Criminal Acts
The best way to sidestep the implications of the Texas parental responsibility law is to defend the underlying charges against your child. The strategies will be different if the case proceeds in adult criminal court as compared to the juvenile system, but the basic defense concepts are still relevant.
Government’s Burden: The government is the plaintiff when pursuing charges against a defendant, and the burden of proof is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. When the prosecution’s evidence is weak, it may be possible to get an acquittal.
Pretrial Defenses: There may be grounds to get the charges against your child dropped before the case goes to trial or a delinquency hearing. The most common pretrial defenses include:
- Unlawful search and seizure by law enforcement.
- A violation of the right to a speedy trial.
- Police misconduct in detaining your child, such as not notifying parents, delivering the child to a juvenile processing office, or failure to conduct a detention hearing within 48 hours.
To gain the benefit of pretrial defenses, you must typically file a motion to dismiss the charges. Alternatively, you can request that the court suppress certain evidence; if the judge agrees and tosses the information, the government may not have sufficient proof to get a conviction or finding of delinquency.
Defenses at Trial: If not dismissed through pretrial proceedings, there is still the opportunity to present defenses after the government rests its case. The most common defenses include:
- Having an alibi.
- Entrapment by government officials.
Things to Know About Juvenile Cases in Texas
The first important factor to note about criminal activity by minors is the point of the juvenile system, which is less about punishment and more concerned with rehabilitation. Protecting the public is crucial, but juvenile justice proceedings aim to provide treatment, training, and other resources to restore accountability. With this point in mind, there are additional things parents should know about juvenile delinquency cases:
1. Only children aged 10 to 17 years old can be charged in juvenile court. However, once the minor reaches age 14, certain cases may be tried in adult court. The judge in the juvenile case has the power to execute a judicial waiver transferring the case to adult court for such charges as:
- Capital Felonies.
- First Degree Felonies.
- An aggravated felony related to drug possession, trafficking, or distribution.
A child who is 15 years of age or older could be tried as an adult for a Second Degree Felony, Third Degree Felony, or State Jail Felony.
2. Police do NOT need a warrant to take a minor into custody; officers can detain a child if they have probable cause to believe the juvenile violated a criminal law, engaged in acts of delinquency, or acted in ways that indicate a need for court supervision.
3. While a minor may be released pending further proceedings, the judge presiding over the juvenile case may order the child to be detained. The court must hold a detention hearing at the initial proceeding. If the juvenile will remain in custody, additional detention hearings must be scheduled every 10 days thereafter. The judge reviews multiple factors in determining juvenile detention, including:
- The likelihood that the child will flee.
- Whether the child enjoys suitable supervision, protection, and care by a parent, guardian, or custodian.
- Whether there is a parent to return the juvenile to court for hearings.
- Concerns about the child being a danger or threatening the public safety.
- Any prior history of juvenile court proceedings, delinquency, and detentions.
4. There is a two-stage process in juvenile court, the first of which focuses on whether the minor committed the alleged act. The adjudication phase does not result in a finding of guilty or not guilty, as it would in adult court. Instead, the allegations are either adjudicated as True or Not True. If your child is adjudicated delinquent, the judge turns to disposition or punishment. The specifics vary according to the crime, underlying circumstances, and many other factors. However, juvenile disposition may result in:
- Community service.
- The requirement is to attend education sessions or complete a substance abuse program.
- A driver’s license suspension or disqualification if the juvenile does not yet have a license.
- An order to apologize to the victim and/or attend victim impact sessions.
- Jail time, including house arrest.
If the case is certified for adult court by the juvenile court judge, the penalties are far harsher and long-term. Even a lower-level State Jail Felony is punishable by 180 days to two years’ incarceration, while a First Degree Felony could mean life in prison.
What To Do if Your Child Was Arrested
You are certainly angry and frustrated by your child’s actions, and it is important to address proper forms of discipline. However, your priority as a parent should be protecting your child’s rights and future. Some tips may be useful:
- Reach out to a Galveston County criminal defense lawyer from the moment you become aware of an arrest and/or detention. Juvenile court proceedings are complicated, but your child enjoys many of the same rights as adults.
- Do not answer questions or participate in an interview if requested by law enforcement, and instruct your child to do the same. Police misconduct may constitute a violation of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
- Despite your parental instincts, never allow your own conduct to cross over to criminal acts. You could face charges for obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, interfering with a witness. All of these actions could lead to felony or misdemeanor charges.
- While it is crucial to get legal representation for your child for proceedings in juvenile or criminal court, parents should consider retaining separate counsel in certain situations. Your interests may diverge from your child when it comes to defending claims under the Texas parental responsibility law.
Our Galveston County Criminal Defense Lawyers Will Advise You
It is reassuring to know that you will not be going to jail or face other criminal punishment, but you can see that parents can still be responsible in some ways for crimes committed by underage children. However, because of the potential financial implications and consequences for your child’s future, fighting the charges is critical.
If your child is facing juvenile charges in Texas, please contact Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz right away. You can call (409) 515-6170 to schedule a free initial consultation with a Galveston County criminal defense attorney. Our office serves Galveston County and Greater Houston, and we are happy to explain the relevant legal concepts.