My child has been arrested, now what?
Receiving a phone call from a police officer that your child is at the police station and is being linked to a crime has to be one of the most gut-wrenching experiences a parent can undergo. Whether it comes a complete shock or the confirmation of your worst fears, the cold reality of that call will be ingrained in your memory for life. But this is not the time for an emotional response, no matter how angry and disappointed you may be in your child. Instead, you must act decisively to protect your child.
The first thing you must realize is that the job of the police is to “clear” crimes, not to determine guilt or innocence. To do their job properly the police need to gather information. There is nothing malicious in this, they are just doing their job. However, there is a grave danger in letting your child speak to the police without a lawyer present. No matter how much you want your child to learn a lesson, this is not a teachable moment. This is a crisis.
Once you are able get in contact with the police be respectful, but firm. Be sure to get the officer's full name. Tell them you need to talk to a lawyer first before answering any questions. Don’t ask “What did my child do?”, rather ask “What do you believe my child did?”. Let the officer know that you will be immediately hiring an attorney to represent your child and that you do not want your child to be questioned further without an attorney present. Ask whether or not they will be charging your child with a crime. Ask if there are plans to transport your youth to juvenile detention. Ask if your child is injured or hurt. If so, request that the police get your child immediate medical attention. Once the conversation is over, immediately write down what you have learned for future reference.
If you are able to get a message to your child, tell them in no uncertain terms that they are to tell the police politely but firmly that they want an attorney and that they will not answer any further questions without a lawyer present. Further, that in all their interactions with police they should be respectful but that they should not talk to them anymore without their lawyer. Also emphasize that they are not to discuss the matter with anyone else, especially other juveniles present in the station or at the detention facility.
Next, you need to immediately contact an experienced juvenile attorney. Too often parents hire lawyers who practice in family or criminal law and dabble in juvenile court. In my decades in juvenile court, I have seen parents' waste good money on inexperienced lawyers. Don’t make that kind of crucial mistake. Get an experienced juvenile attorney who knows the law and their way around the system. The cost will likely be much the same, but the results won’t.
In communicating with the lawyer, make sure he or she understands that you want them to get involved immediately in the case. Don’t wait until the next day for an appointment. Know that while at the police station your child is not only going to be questioned by the officers, your child may be exhibited to witnesses in a line up. They may be taken to the scene of crime to “reenact” what happened. He or she may be taken to remote locations to locate evidence. He or she may be asked to give specimens of their hair, blood or body scrapings for laboratory analysis. All these actions are undertaken by the police to gather evidence. However, this evidence may end up being used to charge your child with a crime. Your child may have a right to not to have to be subjected to any of these procedures, or at least not unless their attorney is present. But these rights can be lost unless an attorney acts quickly to protect your child.
Once you have retained an experienced juvenile attorney, he or she will be able to advise you regarding your child’s case. In future blog posts I will be discussing what a parent can expect at each step in the typical juvenile court case. The most important advice I can give you is whatever your feelings are about your child are at the present moment, don’t leave them defenseless in the face of an impersonal system. Hire an accomplished juvenile lawyer and follow their advice. This may be the most important thing you will ever do for your child.