Criminal Law Attorney Will Mitchell has seen his share of juvenile cases. He’s received plenty of calls from worried parents, needing help when their child faced legal trouble. As a Texas Legal Attorney and parent himself, Mitchell shared some tips on how to prevent and deal with a teen’s legal trouble.
Prevent your Legal Trouble Through Communication
The most important thing Mitchell had to share, as an attorney and a father, is to keep communication lines open with your teen. “I believe in letting kids be kids, but I want to make sure I have an open line of communication with them – that we can trust each other,” says Mitchell.
Explaining the potential consequences of illegal activities or situations is one way to communicate the importance of staying out of trouble. “It could cost you your freedom, and it could cost you your ability to drive a car. It could damage your ability to get student loans, or even get a job or an internship,” says Mitchell.
As for parents, Mitchell advises knowing where your kids are going, who they are hanging out with, and use your senses – what you see, what you smell, and what your gut tells you about what might be going on.
Learn the Law
Many teens don’t realize how little they have to do to be charged with a crime. Educate yourself and your teen on your state’s laws, especially laws that teens often break.
These are the most common crimes Mitchell says juveniles often face:
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol
- Driving Under the Influence
- Driving While Intoxicated
- Possession of Marijuana or other Controlled Substances
- Boating While Intoxicated
- Reckless Boating
“If you’re under the age of 21 and you’ve had anything to drink at all– whether it’s a sip or a six-pack– it’s a $500 fine and 60-day license suspension if convicted,” says Mitchell.
In addition, many people don’t know that the state of Texas charges anyone 17 years and older as an adult, which can mean stricter penalties, a permanent criminal record, and time in adult jail.
Know Your Local Legal System
Although Mitchell practices primarily in Austin, he has clients all over the state. He’s noticed how much a person’s location can affect their charges. Even though it is unfair, remind your teens that some laws are not treated the same everywhere.
In Austin, he says, charges for possession of marijuana are often dropped or given community service, but that’s not the case in a lot of other places around Texas.
“Get caught with marijuana 30 miles south of here, and you’re going to go to jail, you’re going to go to court, and it’s probably going to mean a large fine,” says Mitchell.
Teen in Legal Trouble? Get a Lawyer
The peculiarities of the law, your location, the crime, and the penalties are just a few of the reasons why you and your teen need a lawyer if they are facing legal trouble.
Mitchell cites a recent client who handled a potentially serious criminal situation perfectly. A teen was pulled over with an ice chest of beer in his trunk. His cousin happened to drive by and called the teen’s parents. His parents’ first call was to Mitchell, who was able to handle the situation before things got out of hand.
A lawyer is your guide through the legal process. “I know what procedures are necessary, will make sure that court appearances aren’t missed, and know what to do before your court date to help you in court,” says Mitchell. “Unless the parents are lawyers themselves, they’re not going to know any of that.”
Know Your Rights
Many people do not know children and teens can be questioned by police without a parent or lawyer present. Instill in your teens often that they have rights. They should always ask for an attorney and try to remain silent.
Last, Mitchell wants everyone to remember: jail calls are always recorded. Anything you or your teen say can and will be used against you. “The call is going to be listened to by a police officer or a prosecutor,” says Mitchell. “Anything they say while they’re in there is going to be heard.”
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