What should I do if the police accuse my child of stealing?
We all made mistakes as children and teenagers. The mistakes are part of growing up. But what happens when a mistake or poor choice comes with serious consequences? One common example is that of stealing. It is not uncommon for kids to steal. Child psychologist experts note that even young children, ages 3 to 5 years, take items of interest from others. Children at this age steal simply because they do not understand the concept of items belonging to one person.
Society and the criminal justice system expect older children and teenagers to understand this concept. Still, these kids may steal for several reasons including an attempt to win over friends, peer pressure, or the thrill that comes with doing something they know is wrong. Parents can address this by discussing the reason stealing is wrong and make it clear that the behavior is unacceptable.
Unfortunately, parents may not be the only ones involved in this lesson. If the child or teenager was caught by law enforcement, you may also need to deal with the threat of criminal charges.
Will police really charge my child with theft?
In many cases police will release a minor to their parents for a first offense. If the incident was not serious, they may provide a stern warning and choose not to move forward with charges. However, it is likely the police would expect repayment for the cost of the stolen item to its owner, a process known in the legal world as restitution.
If the incident was serious, the juvenile court may intercede. In Colorado, hearings in juvenile court may be informal. It is possible the public could attend, meaning it is not private, unless the court deems this is not in the best interest of the child. Colorado law refers to shoplifting as concealment of goods. The state can charge a child who conceals unpurchased goods and attempts to leave the store with the crime of theft. In many cases that go this route, the state will expect the parent to pay for the stolen item as well as a fine to the owner of the store.
If the child is over 18, the state may move forward with charges as an adult. This process is discussed in more detail in a previous article, available here.
What should I do to help my child?
First, although it is important to cooperate with police remember that they are not on your side. They are there to uphold the law, not look out for your interests. As a result it is important to get legal counsel to help better ensure your child’s rights are protected. Once police are involved, this incident becomes more than just a growing pain that is part of your child’s normal development. The consequences can extend beyond a parent’s or child’s control. A criminal record can result in difficulties finding employment, getting scholarships for continuing education opportunities, and even finding housing. An attorney can review the case and discuss defense strategies to better ensure the best possible outcome.