The treatment of juveniles in the justice system has been debated for years. New laws in California will end life sentencing for children and teens and allow them the opportunity for parole after 25 years.
New Laws Give Juveniles a Chance
For juveniles entering the justice system at a young age, it can feel as if there’s no hope and no chance for getting out of the system. New state laws are seeking to change that.
One new law allows for anyone who was sentenced to a life sentence as a minor to become eligible for a parole hearing after serving 25 years. For the 300 people currently serving time who were sentenced to life as juveniles, that means they now have a chance at parole.
Another law will limit fees that local jurisdictions are currently charging families with children behind bars. The same law also allows the courts to seal some juvenile records.
Michael Rizo knows the court system all too well. He spent a majority of his teens in and out of juvenile hall for theft. “I would run away, get another warrant, go on the run. Go back and forth,” said Rizo. Rizo, now 20, wanted the cycle to stop.
“It’s just, talking to your mom through a window when you want to hold your mom, that tears you apart,” he said.
He decided to lobby for new laws alongside state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D- Los Angeles). Their arguments for the new laws were based on studies showing that teenage brains have not yet fully matured.
“The young people who came and testified in committee, their stories were no different from yours or mine. They found themselves in the foster system. Some of them have parents in the criminal justice system,” said Mitchell.
“We’re clear that these kids at those critical teenage years are not adults. And so even those who get caught up in the justice system-we have to view with that same lens,” she said.
“People deserve second chances,” Rizo said.
Criminal Defense Attorney’s Importance for Teenager
The best way defense against criminal charges is for you and/or your teenager to have a criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney’s primary responsibility is to explains the often difficult to grasp legal procedures and effects associated with every legal action. They will also represent you and your teenager during a criminal trial as well as guide you through all the associated procedures. In cases involving teenagers, the best defense is a criminal defense attorney.
Lisa Green, also a journalist, television legal analyst, and attorney, having a criminal defense attorney handy just in case your teenager may need them is, “the unrecognized area that parents, particularly parents of teens, miss all the time. So many of our friends have armies of tutors, extracurricular activities, all sorts of angles covered … but when it comes to the law, there’s this black hole.”
Law Can Be Overwhelming for Parents of a Teenager
Although parents aren’t usually naive, they are always hopeful. A parent’s worse nightmare is when they discover their child has been involved in some type of legal trouble. Although it might be best to not think about this, Green thinks parents don’t consider keeping a criminal defense attorney on hand because they think their child will never get into any type of legal trouble.
Even if they’re afraid or intimidated by legal laws, parents should be prepared just in case.
According to Green, it doesn’t matter if a case is as serious as manslaughter or a small infraction such as vandalism, they still need to be prepared.
“I cannot count the number of kids I know, good kids, who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Green said.
“I have now two young adults, and when they were going through their teenage years, it was a simple matter of a party that went wrong, a group of kids in the park when the police stop by and have some questions, bringing something to school they shouldn’t have.
“And in each of those cases, a little bit of knowledge of the law, a little bit of knowledge of what their rights are, the right way to behave, would have saved parents a heck of a lot of grief.”
A Criminal Defense Attorney is Like a Tutor
Green feels that instead of being intimidated at finding a criminal defense attorney parents need to think about possible issues, the same way they’d look for a good orthopedist if their teenager “breaks a bone, or the best tutor if their child is struggling before the SAT.”
“I am not saying that parents need to go out and get their own law degrees … but just dipping your finger into the topic will help you understand what’s available to you to help you parent better,” Green says.
The Social Media Age and Legal Defense
The rising popularity of social media is a large role in the lives of teenagers. Many times teenagers can create a totally different persona from the one’s their parents think they know. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are just some of the social media outlets a teenager’s parents have little if any control over.
In addition, Green provides other examples from real life. For example, a school administrator requests a teenager turn over their cell phone due to allegations they sent inappropriate text messages. Does the teenager have any legal protections?
Green says that parents should know that a school is not permitted to open a teenager’s cell phone without any reason.
“They need to have reasonable suspicion that something’s wrong,” Green said. She advises parents to talk to their teenagers about what the appropriate behavior and action are, and what’s not appropriate if it comes down to dealing with a request such as this. Basically, parents must act as their child’s advocate when dealing with legal issues. As an example, a teenager should handle a request such as this as follows:
“If you’re asked, as a child, for a locker search, to open a phone, to open a laptop, if it’s your property, pause and ask if you could call Mom and Dad,” Green said.
“We can act whether we’re lawyers or not as that first line of defense.”
Teenager Heading for College
Green suggests that parents whose teenagers are heading off to college to take some time and read through the school’s code of conduct, whether it’s online or in the “new student packet” most colleges send to their incoming students.
“They don’t tell you about it during that fantastic tour with the kid walking backwards as your child is looking around to say, ‘Who can I party with?’ But it’s a really important set of information because different schools have different levels of tolerance for various campus activities,” Green said. These rules and activities range from the number of people permitted in a dorm room at any given time, to drinking on campus, or when it’s permitted to pledge a frat or sorority.
Legal Ramifications for Parents of Teenagers
Parents also need to be aware that they may face charges for any crimes their teenagers commit. This includes fines as well as jail time.
There are also laws about “social host” that parents need to know. Parents can held criminally responsible, including facing civil damages, if their teenagers drink alcohol in their home then leave and commit a crime, including if anything tragic occurs such as underage DUI.
The Laws of Social Host
Mothers Against Drunk Driving indicate that currently there are social host laws on the books in more than 150 cities and counties in the U.S. as well as in 24 states. Some of these states and cities even indicate that parents can be liable even if they don’t know underage drinking was taking place in their home.
“It doesn’t have to be you with the shaker, like an episode of ‘Mad Men,’ serving up Manhattans to a group of grateful teens,” Green said. “If you’ve made [alcohol consumption] possible in your home, if you don’t lock your liquor cabinet – I never did – and all of a sudden kids are drinking, that could be a problem as well.”
Teenagers Still Require Punishment
Although Green isn’t advocating these laws aren’t correct, she simply thinks it’s prudent for parents to be educated when it comes to the law and it’s repercussions. She stresses that bad teenage behavior should either legally be punished or punished at home.
“I am not advocating that kids should be absolved of responsibility. If a kid does something wrong, if they broke the law, they ought to be punished appropriately by it. But we also live in a society where we have legal rights, and I want parents to know that they should be aware of what those are so they can help their child use better judgment.”
How to Find a Good Criminal Defense Attorney
So what is the best way to locate a good criminal defense attorney that can help defend your teenager if they happen to break a law?
Green suggests that parents ask their friends and colleagues to get referrals. You can also contact and consult your local state bar association. You should locate a criminal defense attorney in your state that has experience handling criminal defense issues.
Once you have a list of names, call and request to interview them. Make sure you ask any and all questions to help make a decision on which one would be best. Some questions include how much their services cost (which can vary), who handles the work, and what’s their philosophy when it comes to teenagers’ rights and the law.
“You may or may not end up being friends afterwards, but that’s not as important as feeling secure that your attorney is approaching the situation in a way that feels right for you.”
If you’re in the market for a criminal defense attorney for your teenager, feel free to contact Sevens Legal, APC, to answers all your questions. Contact Sevens Legal, APC, today for a free consultation.
Criminal Defense Attorneys
3555 4th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92103
Phone: (619) 297-2800