Parental Criminal Liability When Minors Face Drug Charges

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Oct 31, 2023 | 0 Comments

In New Jersey alone, some 52,000 teenagers (ages 12 to 17) say they've used drugs of some sort in the last month. That's less than the national average—in fact, NJ teens are 7.49% less likely to use drugs than their counterparts in other states—but that statistic is cold comfort for a parent who's worried about their child when it comes to drug use and abuse.

A parent's concern about their child's well-being can be compounded by crime-related concerns for both the child and themselves. What kind of responsibility does a parent have once they discover their child's involvement with drugs? Can you, as a parent, face criminal charges for knowing about this involvement and not taking any action? Let's investigate further. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or click here to use our online contact form.

First, A Quick Look at Parental Responsibility

It might seem unfortunate in some cases, but parenting can't be legislated. A parent's actions have to fall under some specific headings in order to be deemed illegal. For example, a parent can be accused of abuse or neglect if they harm their child deliberately, leave them alone for extended periods, or fail to provide for their basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare.

“Contributing to the delinquency of a minor” is a crime that parental and nonparental adults may be charged with. This essentially means encouraging or helping someone under the age of 18 to engage in criminal or delinquent behavior. Examples of contributing to the delinquency of a minor include:

  • Buying them cigarettes, alcohol, or (where legal) marijuana
  • Hosting a party where underage drinking occurs
  • Harboring a runaway minor
  • Contributing to truancy (keeping a minor out of school)
  • Allowing a minor who doesn't have a license to drive a vehicle
  • Providing a minor with a fake ID

The charge may also be applied when a minor has participated in any criminal act or behavior—burglary, robbery, homicide, theft, and the like.

When Parents Are Complicit In Their Child's Drug Crime

Things get a little trickier when the drugs in question are the parents. Remember that when minors are concerned, “drugs” include cigarettes, alcohol, and legal marijuana, as well as all other illicit substances. If a parent uses any of these substances, and the minor is able to access them, the adult may be found criminally liable if the minor commits an act of delinquency relating to the substances.

For example, if a 15-year-old steals her father's prescription opioids and then sells the pills to a fellow student, the father could be liable—since he left the medication in a place accessible to the child. He may face criminal charges, and if that fellow student is injured or killed as a result of using the drugs, the father, in this instance, could also face civil charges of negligence.

When Parents Are Taken By Surprise

No matter how good a parent someone is, they don't have complete control over or even insight into their child's actions. If the minor is selling, buying, or using drugs, and the parent is ignorant of this fact, the parent will generally not face criminal charges. In other words, parents can't be held responsible for their children's illegal acts or behavior unless they are an accessory to the crime in some fashion.

Mitigating a Minor's Punishment

It's not easy for a parent to learn that not only has their child been arrested, but that they have been involved with drugs in any capacity. Given how detrimental criminal charges can be to an individual's future, it's important that the parent act quickly to get legal help and get the best possible help.

That's where the Lento Law Firm comes in. Our experienced and compassionate team will stand by your and your child's side as you navigate this tricky situation. Get in touch today. Call us at 888.535.3686 or click here to use our online contact form.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in New Jersey and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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