Can parents in the State of Washington be held legally accountable for crimes committed by their children? You may be surprised by the answer, but the first thing to know is that if your child is charged with a crime, you’ll need to contact a Seattle juvenile defense attorney at once.

Juvenile crime rates spike in the summertime in the Seattle area, and with many businesses closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer young people have summer jobs this year. That means more time on their hands, more boredom, and more juvenile crime.

Often, the intervention of a good defense lawyer can keep a child out of juvenile court or reduce the consequences of a crime committed by a minor. If you want to keep a criminal conviction from appearing on your child’s record, a defense attorney’s immediate help is essential.

When the State of Washington deals with juvenile criminal offenders, rehabilitation rather than punishment is the goal. Minors have the same rights as adults when they are charged with crimes, and the state must prove a minor’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to win a conviction.

What is This State’s Parental Responsibility Law?

As for parents, they need to know about the State of Washington’s parental responsibility law. A parent cannot be charged with a crime or sent to jail if that parent’s child is convicted of a crime.

Nevertheless, the consequences for the parents of convicted minors in this state may be considerable. That is why helping your child to avoid a criminal conviction can be almost as important for a parent as it is for the child.

The State of Washington allows the victims of certain crimes committed by juveniles to bring a civil lawsuit against the parent or parents if the child is under the age of 18 and resides with the parent or parents.

When Can a Parent Be Sued for a Child’s Crime?

A lawsuit may be filed against a parent in this state if that parent’s minor child is convicted of “willfully or maliciously” destroying or defacing another person’s real or personal property or if the minor child is convicted of inflicting an injury on another person.

The key phrase in the law is that the minor child had to act “willfully or maliciously” for a crime victim’s lawsuit against a juvenile offender’s parent to prevail. In other words, the convicted juvenile offender had to commit the crime purposefully and with no regard for the consequences.

What If a Child Was Careless Rather Than Malicious?

If the minor child caused the property damage or personal injury accidentally or merely through carelessness, that alone is not sufficient to make the parent legally liable for property damages or personal injuries.

While the requirement that a minor was willful or malicious may get a parent “off the hook” for something like an auto accident linked to careless driving, the law presumes that some crimes – ranging from vandalism to battery – are always committed maliciously and purposefully.

Anyone in the State of Washington – including a government agency or a business – who is injured or whose property is damaged or destroyed by a minor child’s willful or malicious behavior may bring a lawsuit against the minor child’s parent or parents.

How Much May a Parent Have to Pay?

State law establishes a $5,000 limit to the amount of compensation that may be awarded to a crime victim who sues a parent or parents for a minor child’s crime. The amount of property damage or personal harm does not matter – $ 5,000 is the limit.

However, and especially in cases arising from traffic accidents, parents may be sued for their own negligence – rather than the child’s behavior – under the principle of “common law negligence” if a parent permits an irresponsible, impaired, or unlicensed minor to drive a vehicle.

Are Parents Liable for Traffic Crashes Caused by Their Children?

A parent may be held liable for the personal injuries and property damage caused by a minor child driver if the vehicle:

1. is owned, provided, and/or maintained by the parent
2. is generally used by licensed family members
3. was being driven by the minor child when the accident took place
4. was used with the parent’s implied or express consent

When is a Parent Considered Negligent Under Civil Law?

State law affirms that the $5,000 limit on the compensation available for a child’s behavior “shall in no way limit the amount of recovery against the parent or parents for their own common law negligence.” Under common law in this state, a parent may be deemed negligent if:

1. The parent knows about a minor child’s dangerous or irresponsible tendencies.
2. The parent knows of those tendencies but fails to take steps to control the child.
3. Someone suffers harm that was foreseeable as the result of that parental failure.

A criminal charge that leads to a conviction can damage your minor child’s life – and put you on the wrong end of a civil lawsuit – unless your child is represented by a Washington State juvenile defense lawyer.

How Are Juvenile Criminal Cases Handled?

This state’s juvenile justice system handles juvenile criminal cases in several ways depending on the severity of the charge and the background and record of the alleged juvenile offender.

State law gives the police, prosecutors, and judges broad discretion regarding the treatment of juvenile criminal offenders. When a minor child is arrested, the police may release the juvenile to his or her parents or take the alleged juvenile offender to a juvenile detention facility.

State law further allows a minor age 14 or older to be transferred from the juvenile courts to the adult courts and tried as an adult in cases that involve specific serious and violent crime allegations. A juvenile court judge determines when a transfer to the adult courts is appropriate.

How Will a Juvenile Defense Lawyer Help You?

A conviction as a juvenile may have lasting consequences that negatively impact a child’s life for years to come. If your child is placed under arrest and charged with a crime, the right defense lawyer will try to have the charge reduced, dropped by the prosecutor, or dismissed by the court.

If none of these options are available, the right lawyer will develop an aggressive and effective defense with the goal of protecting your child’s future.

In all cases that involve juvenile defendants, a Seattle juvenile defense attorney will work diligently and conscientiously on behalf of your family and your child’s best long-term interests.