Police officers deal with noncriminal behavior involving children, known as "status offenses." Skipping school, fleeing from home, and breaking curfews are all status violations. Police also act in non-delinquent instances if children are reported missing or are suspected of being abused or neglected. In both cases, the officer will attempt to contact the parent or guardian to discuss the situation first before taking action.
Minor criminal activity can result in charges such as disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, etc. The officer would take the same actions in these situations that he or she would for any other person who is accused of a crime. If the officer feels that there is cause to arrest the child, they would take them into custody either by handcuffing them or placing them in a patrol car. A police department's policy on how it arrests young people should be consulted before an incident occurs.
Minors have many of the same rights as adults do; however, their rights may not be violated unless doing so is necessary for the protection of themselves or others. For example, if an officer believes that a child is in danger of harming themselves, the officer could take measures to prevent this harm. If the officer determines that the only way to protect the child is to take them to a hospital, then he or she has the right to do so.
Children cannot give legal consent to search their bodies or property.
Officers are likely to do nothing and terminate the status crime, or to take the juvenile into custody with the options of (1) releasing the juvenile to parents, (2) referring the juvenile to an alternative social program, or (3) referring the juvenile to juvenile court. Police judgment is hampered by violent youths. An angry or threatening juvenile may threaten an officer's safety by physically attacking him or her. For this reason, it is important for officers to be trained in the effective use of force.
Discretionary decisions made by officers can have serious consequences for juveniles. For example: if an officer decides not to arrest someone for a misdemeanor offense, that person can be charged with a new crime if he or she later commits another offense against the state law. Also, officers can choose to release suspects they believe cannot be rehabilitated at a young age, such as when they turn 14 years old. Judges can also order youths under 18 years old to participate in social programs or meet other conditions of supervision. These options are often available to officers when they make decisions about whether to arrest a juvenile and where to send them after they're arrested.
Police officers must exercise their discretion in making arrests and other disciplinary actions toward juveniles. It is important that these individuals understand that their choices can have serious consequences for young people.
Formal police actions may include detaining a juvenile, taking a report, reporting the juvenile to a social care agency or juvenile court, issuing a ticket, or making an arrest (Walker). In most states, there is no requirement that a juvenile be taken directly before a magistrate; instead, they can be held in a juvenile facility or community treatment center. If a juvenile is accused of a serious crime, however, they usually must be brought before a judge within 24 hours.
Informal police actions include giving information, helping with inquiries, and performing services for members of the public. These actions do not involve filing charges but can help build relationships between officers and residents of communities they patrol. Informal policing has many benefits for officers and citizens alike; it can help reduce crime by giving both parties confidence that the police are paying attention to their neighborhood, and it can also give people who might not otherwise talk to officers the chance to do so. For example, if an officer spots a young person acting suspiciously under the cover of darkness, they might call in this information to send other officers in uniform down the street or into nearby parks. When officers have the time and opportunity to stop and talk with people, they often learn things that lead to additional arrests.
Minors can face the same charges as adults, including violent crimes such as assault, property crimes such as theft, and drug offenses. Some criminal charges, known as "status" offenses, are principally determined by the respondent's age since they would not be crimes if committed by an adult. These include violations such as truancy or running away from home. Other charges may have different penalties depending on the minor's age at the time of the offense.
All minors have rights under the law. They can't be held criminally responsible for their actions. However, this does not relieve them from the responsibility of living up to the consequences of their actions. For example, a juvenile who has been found guilty of committing a crime can be ordered by the court to participate in community service or other forms of punishment or rehabilitation. If you believe that your child has been wrongly accused of a crime, contact a defense attorney immediately.