EDITOR'S NOTE: As part of the State Bar of California's
public education campaign, California Bar Journal will publish in May
a special revised 2001 issue of the popular "Kids and the Law: An
A-to-Z Guide for Parents." This month's MCLE self-study draws on
excerpts from that guide.
Alcohol and kids
Believe it or not, there are approximately 3
million youngsters in the United States who have a serious drinking
problem, and of all kids who start drinking, one in 10 becomes an
alcoholic. The minimum age for drinking in California is 21. This
means that the sale or transfer of alcoholic beverages to anyone under
that age is prohibited. In California, an alcoholic beverage is any
beverage that has at least one-half of 1 percent alcohol.
Also, with some exceptions, persons under the age
of 21 are prohibited from being in an establishment where liquor is
being served and from possessing or drinking alcohol in a public
place, including state highways or in and around schools. The law also
makes it illegal to possess false identification or use a fake I.D. to
purchase (or attempt to purchase) alcohol or to enter an establishment
where alcohol is being served. Minors also must abide by city and
county ordinances that prohibit all persons from consuming alcoholic
beverages in public parks or recreation areas. Anyone, adult or minor,
who possesses an open container of alcohol in a prohibited area is
guilty of an infraction.
The consumption or possession of an alcoholic
beverage by a minor is legal if it occurs in the child's home with a
parent's permission or in the presence of the minor's parents.
Nevertheless, underage drinking may be regulated when it occurs at
unsupervised social gatherings. Under California law, an unsupervised
social gathering is a party or event that is open to the public,
involves 10 or more people under the age of 21, and is not supervised
by a parent or guardian of one of the participants. In this situation,
a peace officer (who lawfully enters the gathering) can seize any or
all alcoholic beverages from anyone under 21 whom the officer has
witnessed drinking or possessing alcohol.
The punishment for violating these laws varies.
Often, however, the offender may be found guilty of an infraction or a
misdemeanor. In addition, young people between the ages of 13 and 21
who violate the law may have their driver's licenses suspended,
revoked, or delayed up to one year for each offense related to the
possession, consumption, or purchase of alcohol. This is true even if
the offense does not involve an automobile. Also, for their first
offense, young people may be asked to pay fines up to $250 or perform
between 24 and 32 hours of community service. A young person convicted
of a second or subsequent offense will be punished by a fine up to
$500 or required to perform 36 to 48 hours of community service.
Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) is a
very serious crime which often requires the payment of a large fine, a
mandatory jail sentence, and the suspension or revocation of a
driver's license, particularly if the young person has been
convicted of the same offense in the past.
Adults, too, may be liable under laws intended to
guard against underage drinking. For example, laws which prohibit the
sale of alcoholic beverages to those under 21 provide for criminal as
well as civil penalties against the bar and liquor store owners as
well as social hosts.
Drugs and kids
Today, far too many of our kids are involved in
the use, possession, or sale of drugs. In fact, the chances are about
one in two that your high school-age child has experimented (or will)
with some type of illicit drug. The worst part is that parents are
often the last to know.
Laws regulating drugs exist at the federal and
state levels. Most of the federal laws deal with large-scale drug
trafficking, activities in which most kids are not involved. Instead,
young people are most often charged with "possession of a controlled
substance" under California law. More than 135 controlled substances
carry a felony charge if you are arrested with one or more in your
possession. Such substances include concentrated cannabis, heroin,
cocaine, LSD, DMT, S.T.P., amphetamines, PCP, and barbiturates. For a
few drugs, the punishment is less severe. The possession of not more
than 28.5 grams of marijuana, other than concentrated cannabis, is
treated as a misdemeanor, resulting in a fine of up to $100. Minors
also may be escorted home to their parents or taken to a juvenile
probation officer. Of course, if your child is found possessing more
than one ounce of marijuana or with any amount on school grounds, or
cultivating marijuana, the crime and punishment is more serious.
Finally, it is against the law to have certain drug paraphernalia or
to be knowingly in a place where heroin, cocaine, mescaline, peyote,
or synthetic THC is being used if you aid, assist or abet in the
participation of the unlawful smoking or use of a controlled
In California, courts have the discretion to
suspend a young person's license (if he/she is under the age of 21
but older than 13) for one year if he/she has been convicted of
certain drug and alcohol related offenses. If the minor has yet to get
a license, driving privileges may be delayed for one year subsequent
to the time the person becomes legally eligible to drive. Successive
offenses may result in further suspension or delay in eligibility.
Suspension, restriction, or delay of driving privileges is in addition
to any penalty imposed upon conviction.
The most serious drug offenses for which young
people are sometimes prosecuted involve dealing or drug-running. When
kids are arrested with a greater quantity of drugs than they could
have reasonably been expected to use themselves, they may be charged
with "possession with intent to sell" drugs. This is a felony,
even if the simple possession of the particular drug involved would
not have been a felony. The state imposes severe sanctions when any
person 18 years or older unlawfully prepares for sale, selling, or
giving away a specified controlled substance to a minor at locations
where children are present, including school grounds, a public
playground, a child day care facility, a church or a synagogue, during
school hours or when school-related programs are in session or at any
time when minors are using the facility where the offense occurs. This
conduct is a felony punishable by up to nine years in state prison.
Persons under the age of 18 who induce another minor to violate
designated provisions related to controlled substances may be punished
by imprisonment in the state prison.
Parents are often the last to know that their
child is involved with drugs. You need to look for marked changes in
your child's general behavior and attitude. Remember that although
some behavior is typical of adolescence, you should be particularly
concerned if you see a combination of changes in your child,
A noticeable lack of interest in
formerly rewarding activities or close friends
Frequently vague or withdrawn moods
Secret telephone calls or meetings, or being peculiarly secretive
about personal possessions
Increased frustration levels and frequent temper tantrums;
Changes in sleeping and eating habits
A rapid decline in school grades or an unusual number of recurring
Frequent borrowing of money or the outright lack of money
Stealing or the disappearance of valuable items from around the house
Changes in personal dress, from neat and reasonably clean to unkempt
Forming new friendships and hangouts, and developing unusually strong
alliances with those friends
Even if your child is not dealing in drugs, it is
against the law to use or be "high" on drugs. If you find out that
your child is using drugs, address the situation immediately and
firmly. It is a troubling and all too-common family scenario, but you
need to get through this together.
Parents' rights and responsibilities
It seems as though parents have more
responsibilities than anything else. Nevertheless, parents do have
some very important rights:
1. Custody and control: Parents must make
important decisions about their children's lives. For example, where
the children will live, who they will live with, what they will do
from day to day, what school they will attend, when medical care might
be appropriate, and what, if any, religion their children will
practice. These rights are constitutionally protected and generally
cannot be taken from parents unless it can be shown that the parents
2. Cooperation and obedience: Parents are
expected to control their children, and are permitted to discipline
them, but must not abuse or neglect them. Sometimes a child refuses to
obey the reasonable requests of his parents, runs away from home,
refuses to go to school, or is outside parental control. In this
situation, parents may go to court and seek to give up legal
responsibility for the child. If parents fail to adequately control a
child, a court may determine that the child is in need of supervision
and declare him a ward of the court. When this occurs, the court
sometimes takes custody of the child and responsibility for the
child's basic needs and education.
Children are not required to obey parental orders
to do something dangerous or illegal. Parents who allow or encourage
children to commit dangerous or illegal acts may be charged with
contributing to the delinquency of a minor, child abuse or neglect.
3. Earnings: Although most parents allow
their child to keep money he or she has earned, parents do have a
legal right to these wages. There are, however, some exceptions to
this rule. A child's earnings may not be available to parents when:
the parents have exploited, neglected, or abandoned the child;
the child's income is the result of his special talent or athletic
ability (the child star or athlete); or
the child's income is the result of a gift or inheritance.
4. Recovery for death or injury: If a
child is killed or injured, parents are entitled to bring a lawsuit to
recover costs such as medical or funeral expenses from the person
The most important responsibility of parents is
to support their children. Parents are legally obligated to provide
their children with all of the necessities of life. Necessities are
not limited to food, clothing, and shelter, but also include medical
care and an education. This responsibility falls equally upon both
parents and also applies to children that the parent has adopted.
Failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or parental care
and supervision may lead to criminal prosecution for neglect. If the
county is required to support a child, the county is entitled to
assignment rights to seek reimbursement from parents who are capable,
but have refused, to provide support.
Parents are also required to reimburse the county
for the costs of support incurred for detention of a child under a
juvenile court order. Parents must also pay back the county for the
cost of legal services provided to minors in juvenile court
proceedings. The duty to provide support to children lasts until the
child reaches the age of majority, which is usually 18, or 19, if she
is still enrolled in high school full-time.
The failure of parents to marry does not affect
the responsibility to support their children. If parents are
unmarried, or divorced, and cannot agree upon how much each should
contribute toward the support of their children, the courts may be
called upon to decide. The other parent, or the child by a guardian ad
litem, may bring an action against the parent to enforce the duty to
pay child support.
Alternatively, the county may proceed on behalf
of a child to enforce the child's right of support against a parent
who fails to provide support. A court may order one parent to make
specified payments to the other for child support. If a parent
disobeys a court order to pay child support, the court may order a
writ of execution or levy a wage garnishment, may subject the parent
to civil contempt proceedings or criminal prosecution.
Note: A stepchild (a child from a prior
marriage) is generally not entitled to support from a stepparent.
Birth parents remain primarily responsible for child support unless
the child has been adopted by the stepparent. If, however, a
stepparent, or other person, provides necessary support to a child in
good faith, where the custodial parent neglects to do so, that person
may recover the reasonable value of those necessaries from the
custodial parent. However, voluntary support paid out for a child is
not required to be reimbursed by the natural parents, stepchild or the
state, absent a specific agreement.
Supervision and control of children
Parents are morally responsible for exercising
proper supervision and control over their children. However,
generally, parents are not legally responsible for the acts of their
children. There are certain exceptions.
For example, parents who encourage their children
to break the law may be found guilty of contributing to the
delinquency of a minor. Also, parents who know or should know that
their child engages in improper conduct or who aid or encourage the
conduct may be held liable for the acts of their children.
Additionally, there are specific statutes that
hold parents liable for certain harm caused by their children.
Injuries from guns: Parents may be required to pay victims up to
Intentional acts: If the child causes injury or death to another,
parents are liable for medical, dental and hospital expenses, up to
Destruction of property: Parents are liable for sums children
cannot pay, up to $50,000.
Graffiti: Parents are liable for the costs of removal, repair,
and/or replacement of property.
Injuries from tear gas: Parents who have signed a minor's
consent form to obtain tear gas will be liable for injuries, unless
the child used the gas in self-defense.
Fines for truancy: Parents may be required to pay fines up to
Injuries on school grounds; Damage to school property; Failure to
return borrowed school property: Parents will be liable for up to
$10,000, and up to $10,000 for any reward.
The school may withhold grades, diplomas or transcripts until
these amounts are paid.
Shoplifting: If a child steals from a store or library, the
parents are responsible for up to $1,000.
Curfew violations: Parents must pay the actual costs incurred by
the police for picking up and returning children to their homes.