A criminal defense lawyer, for your teen? It might sound a little bit crazy. Here’s why it’s not.
Raising a Teen in 2015
When raising a teen in this media-saturated world it can sometimes seem as if the loving child you once knew has turned into a moody monster that refuses to listen to anything you say. Regardless of how much you try to be in their lives, chances are there are some things you’ll never ever know about.
The news was shocking to hear: Michelle Carter, 18, was charged with involuntary manslaughter after allegedly sending text messages urging her close friend, Conrad Roy, 18, to commit suicide. Sadly, he did. How could a close friend do something like that, even after Roy had expressed second thoughts about carrying through with it? And what are the legal ramifications of sending that text? Or of posting something online?
How can a teen go from living his or her normal life to facing severe and life changing consequences?
It can happen so quickly, in literally the time it takes to send a text. And because of this, Lisa Green, author of On Your Case: A Compassionate (and Only Slightly Bossy) Legal Guide for Every Stage of a Woman’s Life, believes that every parent of a teen, whether male or female, should have a criminal defense lawyer in mind, just in case.
Importance of a Criminal Defense Lawyer
A criminal defense lawyer is the best way to defend yourself against criminal charges. Because the legal process is often difficult to grasp, a criminal defense lawyer’s main responsibility is to explain the legal procedures and effects of every legal action. A defense attorney will also represent you during your criminal trial and will help guide you through the procedures. In cases having to do with teens, a criminal defense lawyer can be your best line of defense.
According to Green, who is also a journalist, lawyer, and television legal analyst, the idea of having a criminal defense lawyer on hand for your teen, just in case, 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 is Overwhelming
Parents aren’t naive, but maybe just hopeful. It’s a parent’s wort nightmare to find out that their child is involved in some kind of legal trouble. So it can sometimes be best to just not think of it. Green feels parents never consider having a criminal defense lawyer on hand because their kid is never going to get into legal trouble.
But parents need to be prepared, regardless of if they are scared or intimidated by the law.
“I cannot count the number of kids I know, good kids, who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Green.
“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.”
Criminal Defense Lawyer Like a Tutor
Rather than being intimidated by finding a criminal defense lawyer, Green feels parents should think about the issue just as they would track down a good orthopedist if their teen “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,” she says.
Legal Defense in the Social Media Age
Th rise of social media plays a large role. A lot of times teens are able to create an entirely different persona from the one their parents know. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are outlets that often times parents have little control over.
Additionally, there are some other real-life examples that Green provides. One such example is: if a teen is asked by a school administrator to turn over her or his cell phone because of allegations that the teen was sending inappropriate texts. What are the legal protections that teen has?
According to Green, parents should be informed that a school is not allowed to open a cell phone for no reason at all.
“They need to have reasonable suspicion that something’s wrong,” said Green. She advises that parents talk to their teens about what’s appropriate behavior, as well as what’s appropriate action, and what’s not appropriate when it comes to handling a request like this. Essentially, parents need to act as their child’s first legal advocate. This is how a teen should handle such a request:
“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,” she said.
“We can act whether we’re lawyers or not as that first line of defense.”
College Bound Teens
Green advises parents of college-bound teens to spend some time looking through a school’s code of conduct – either online, or in the new student packet that most colleges send out.
“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, she said. These activities and rules range from how many people are allowed in a dorm room at one time, to when you can pledge a frat or sorority, to drinking on campus.
Legal Ramifications for Parents
Parents should know they can also face charges for crimes their teens commit. This can mean fines and even jail time.
There are additionally social host laws parents should be aware of. A parent can be held criminally responsible and even face civil damages if teens drink alcohol in their home and then go off and commit a crime, or if something tragic happens, such as an underage DUI.
Social Host Laws
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, in the U.S. more than 150 cities or counties and 24 states currently have social host on their books. And in some of these cities and states, the law says that parents can be held liable even if they were unaware that the drinking was taking place.
“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,” said Green. “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.”
Teens Still Need Punishment
Green is not advocating that these laws are incorrect, simply she thinks it’s important that parents are educated about the law and its repercussions. She still stresses that bad teen behavior should be punished either legally or 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.”
Finding a Good Criminal Defense Lawyer
So how do you find a good criminal defense lawyer that can defend your teen should they break a law?
Green advises parents to ask friends and colleagues for referrals. You are also able to contact and consult with your state bar association. You’ll want to find a criminal defense lawyer that is in your state and has experience with criminal defense issues.
Once you have identified some names, call up and interview them. Feel free to ask every and any question that will help you decide on one: how much their services would cost (that can vary), who would handle the work, what is their philosophy is about the law and teens’ rights.
“You may or may not end up being friends afterwards, but that’s not as important as feeling secure that your lawyer is approaching the situation in a way that feels right for you.”