Criminal Defense

Should Parents be Responsible for Their Children’s Crimes?

December 05, 2022 by Mikel Rastegar in Criminal Defense  
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The Importance of Parental Responsibilities

As a parent, it may be difficult and frustrating to see your child going through a period of defiance. Parents in California now have one more thing to worry about: will they be held legally responsible for their children’s criminal behavior?

Yes, it is possible in the Golden State of California. A parent may be held liable for their child’s criminal activities under California’s “parental responsibility legislation“. The law in California makes parents financially responsible for their children’s hurt or damage in civil court.

Parental Obligations and Liberties

It was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States that parents have a constitutionally protected right to raise their children free from state intrusion. However, the court also ruled that states may legally require parents to ensure their children attend school. Thus, the right to raise a child is not absolute and comes with substantial legal obligations.

Parental Obligation Statutes

Parents and legal guardians must use reasonable care to supervise their minor dependents. If a parent or guardian fails in this duty, they may be held accountable for their child’s behavior if those activities cause injury to another person or property.

Which Groups Do They Affect?

The following individuals are considered parents under California law:

  • The parents of the minor child
  • The parent who has custody
  • Legal guardian

Willful Misconduct Statute in California

According to section 1714.1 Civil Code, “acts of willful misconduct of a minor resulting in injury or death to another person, or destruction of someone’s property, shall be credited to the parent or custodian. Furthermore, the act states that the juvenile and the custodial parent or guardian are both accountable for any damages caused by the minor’s intentional misbehavior. A maximum of $25,000 per wrongful act is charged (This amount changes every two years depending on the living cost and other factors). Medical bills and other injury-related costs are allowed to count against the $25,000 cap in cases where a minor’s “willful misbehavior” caused harm to another person. Still, punitive damages like pain and suffering are not.

If the minor’s misbehavior involves graffiti or “defacing the property of another with paint or a similar material,” the parent or guardian will still be jointly responsible for up to $25,000, including court award and attorney’s costs to the individual initiating the action.

California’s Parental Liability for Minor Driving

Two sections of the California Vehicle Code address parental or legal guardian liability for their young child’s negligent driving-related civil damages:

  1. Under California Vehicle Code 17707, a parent or legal guardian who signs and verifies their minor child’s application for a driver’s license may be held jointly liable (along with the minor) for any damages arising from the minor’s acts.
  2. Suppose a parent in California allows their minor child to operate a motor vehicle, and that child causes an accident. In that case, the parent may be held financially liable for the damages that were reasonably foreseeable to the parent before the child was permitted to operate the vehicle. This liability arises from California Vehicle Code 17708.

Defenses From Parental Responsibility

Parents being sued for injuries to their children have caused a few options for fighting the claim. You may think of them as including, but not limited to:

  • For example, since the kid had never shown destructive or aggressive behavior previously, the parent was unaware that the youngster had potentially harmful inclinations.
  • If the parents are divorced, and the kid now lives with the other parent, the former parent may claim that they are not liable since they no longer have physical or legal custody of the child. However, this argument only applies to direct blame and not vicarious liability.
  • The child’s conduct did not lead to any injury for the plaintiff.
  • The parents did not consent to their child using a firearm if that was the crime.

Duty to Use Reasonable Caution

Parents in California are required by law to provide their young children with “reasonable care, protection, supervision, and control.” This obligation is outlined in Section 272(a)(2) of the California Penal Code. Any adult (parent or legal guardian) found guilty of criminal conduct or failure to act is guilty of a misdemeanor. The maximum consequence for this offense is one year in county jail, a $2,500 fine, or both, depending on the case’s circumstances.

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