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Are Parents Responsible for Their Child’s Crimes?

Roth Legal, A Professional Law Corporation  Dec. 26, 2022

Gavel, sound block and small wooden figurines of husband.All parents understand how difficult it is to balance keeping their kids safe while also allowing them the responsibility to make their own choices. With these choices, of course, come consequences; some of these consequences we can help them navigate, but others we can’t. One of the most heart-wrenching things you can watch your child go through is getting arrested and charged with a crime. In these situations, many parents want to know what they can do to help and if they can be held responsible for their child’s crimes. The answer to this is not always clear and will vary depending on your circumstances. 

If you’d like to speak with a criminal defense attorney about recent charges your child is facing, call Roth Legal, A Professional Law Corporation, serving clients in Modesto, California as well as Stockton, Manteca, Merced, and throughout the state of California. 

Parental Responsibility Laws  

Each state has its own set of parental responsibility laws that outline exactly what parents are liable for when their child commits civil or criminal acts. For example, if your young daughter hits a baseball through a neighbor's window, you may be expected to reimburse them for the cost to replace it. However, in more extreme cases, the burden of liability gets more complex and parents can face high fines or even jail time if the actions were of a criminal nature. 

California’s Parental Responsibility Law  

California law holds that parents of minors under the age of 18 are responsible for any "willful misconduct causing injury, death or property damage" that their child commits. This means parents must pay out damages for things like property damage or medical bills that result from such actions. Currently, this means both the child and parent are jointly responsible for damages up to $25,000, but this amount is adjusted each year for inflation. 

There are also specific laws regarding minors operating cars. In California, anyone under the age of 18 must have a sponsor in order to get a license. If the minor then goes on to act negligently or with willful misconduct and injures someone else, their sponsor will be held liable for their actions. 

Importantly, the actions of the child must be willful, so accidental or careless actions aren’t covered under these laws (though the parents may still agree to cover damages). Additionally, parents can be held liable if they’ve failed in their duty to exercise reasonable care. This means that if it can be shown that a parent should have known about their child’s propensity for violence or dangerous behavior and did nothing to stop it, they may be held criminally responsible for their failure to act.  

Possible Parental Consequences  

The consequences for parents in cases where their children commit criminal acts will vary depending on the charges but can include prison time, fines, and in some cases, required parenting classes. The last option may be available in lieu of prison time or as a means to reduce prison time, but this will be up to the discretion of the presiding judge.  

Get Support for Yourself & Your Family, No Matter the Circumstances  

No one should have to face these complex and emotional legal issues alone. If you’re in the Modesto, California area and would like to speak with an attorney about your options when facing penalties for your child’s crimes, reach out to Roth Legal, A Professional Law Corporation. There are defenses available to you in these situations, but it’s vital you contact a criminal defense attorney immediately who can begin investigating and organizing evidence that can be used in your case.