A parent’s love for a child is unconditional and unending, no matter what they have done and no matter how old they are. In my time as a prosecutor and a defense attorney I have seen plenty of heartbreaking things, but one of the most striking is when young adults from good families find themselves in legal trouble. In my experience, how families come together during such times can often determine whether the trouble a young man or woman finds themselves in becomes a recurring problem or a bad memory.
This article is to offer some general guidance to parents of college students and other young adults who are arrested. These observations are general and based on my experience. All cases are different, and you should consult a qualified attorney about your specific circumstances. Feel free to contact The Bratcher Firm if you would like to speak with us about your case. But even if you don’t contact us, contact someone.
1. Focus on What Matters- When finding out a child is arrested, it is not uncommon to feel shocked and embarrassed. The initial arrest, combined with news articles can make a bad situation worse. But keep in mind, a good parent doesn’t suddenly become a bad parent because their child has been accused of a crime. Similarly, the good kid you raised does not suddenly become a bad apple just because they have been accused of breaking the law. These negative emotions, while understandable, can hinder effectively dealing with the issue at hand. Try to process the initial shock, hurt, and embarrassment you may feel and focus on the thing that you have always put first and foremost: the well-being of your child.
2. Address Immediate Legal Needs- In the even you receive a phone call that your child has been arrested and needs you to post a bond, you are faced with a choice. It is not uncommon for parents to tell their teenage children “if you ever get arrested, you better not call me to get you out.” I would encourage you to think hard when deciding whether to follow through with this statement. County jails house some actual bad people, in addition to good people accused of breaking the law. Very seldom does the value of any lesson learned by a good person from being left in jail outweigh the risks of being in custody. Additionally, when you are the person posting bond, your child needs you. Accordingly, this stage is often a good time to talk to your child and get honest answers about the things you need to learn in order to address the things discussed in part 3.
3. Assess the Underlying Problems- It is absolutely critical that open and frank communication with your child about what got them arrested. This discussion should be focused on solving the problem, and should be free of judgement. For example, if your child is charged with DUI or possession of marijuana, this could be evidence of an underlying drug or alcohol problem that needs to be addressed. If a harder drug like methamphetamine is at issue, it very frequently indicates the need for treatment or rehabilitation. Even if your child is not guilty of what they are charged with, the fact that they are charged at all may be evidence of some underlying problem. For example, a child wrongly charged with possession of marijuana that a friend left in their car could be evidence that he is “around the wrong crowd.” The only way to address the underlying issue is to communicate honestly with the child. Your communication with your child may not be privileged and you could be called as a witness if the State has reason to believe the child has made incriminating statements to you. By contrast, in most cases an attorney or therapist communications are privileged. These professionals may not be called as witnesses and can often give direction about what interventions may be needed without violating privilege.
Often a therapist or other expert is necessary to determine the extent of a problem through drug or alcohol evaluations. As a prosecutor and defense attorney, I have established relationships with counselors, rehabilitation facilities, and other experts I can refer you to who can help you take a holistic approach to helping your child in addition to resolving the criminal case.
4. Do Not Assume The Legal System Will Resolve Underlying Problems: Assume the Opposite- The ultimate goal for a young adult who gets in trouble (even if they may have committed an offense) is to rehabilitate the person and make them a positive, productive member of society. In order to do so, two of the most important factors include education and gainful employment. Unfortunately, under Georgia law the desire to punish often overtakes the desire to rehabilitate and the collateral consequences of a conviction can ruin efforts at rehabilitation. For example, for many crimes a conviction includes the suspension of a drivers’ license, the denial of state provided financial aid for college, and a criminal record that denies the person convicted certain job opportunities for life. There are “safety valves” built into these laws that often allow exceptions to these consequences and anyone facing criminal charges would be wise to consult an experienced attorney to keep a potential criminal charge from haunting them for years into the future.
In my 11 years of experience, I have come to believe that police officers, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges are by and large very good people who choose careers in public service because they want to help people. The problem is they face a system that is overcrowded, overburdened, and makes it largely impossible to take a case by case approach to everyone accused of a crime. A talented criminal defense attorney not facing such burdens can often take a holistic approach to cases, and work with the accused and with the State to reach a resolution that holds the individual accountable for wrongdoing while at the same time avoiding many of the collateral consequences that come along with a conviction.
5. Rebuild Your Relationship: Getting a good result in the criminal case is only a first step to rebuilding the loving and trusting relationship you have with your child. Often times, repairing the underlying problem that lead to an arrest requires rehabilitation, individual or family therapy, and a lot of difficult conversations. Every situation is different, and how to go about repairing an individual relationship is beyond the scope of this article. Just know that resolving the underlying problem and reestablishing a relationship of trust between parent and child is absolutely essential to avoid legal problems in the future.
Having a child arrested is a frightening and often overwhelming experience. My firm has years of experience in the criminal justice system and we assist our clients and their families during these difficult times. If you would like to schedule a consultation, please feel free to contact us at (706) 509-0353.