With all the recent news about the police and citizen rights, I want to share some myths, information about juvenile court, and tips for your kids about dealing with police.

1. Myth: Children under a given age can’t be convicted of a crime.

There is no limitation on the age at which a child can be found guilty of a crime. The court will consider if the child understood the difference between right and wrong. If the child is under the age of 14, the prosecution must prove that the child knew the act was wrong at the time it was committed. (California Penal Code § 26)

2. Myth: Beating your brother or sister or other family member is not unlawful.

No matter what your age or relationship, it is unlawful to strike another person. The only exception is for a parent using reasonable force to discipline a child. When a child hurts a sibling, the police may leave the matter for the parents to handle, but they have the right to arrest the offender and let the court deal with him. (PC § 240, 242)

3. Myth: Parent gender is a factor in determining child custody.

When parents divorce, the law states clearly that the court may not make the decision based on the sex of the parent seeking custody. California Family Court looks at the cases presented by each parent and makes its determination based on evidence and witnesses to the parent’s suitability. The only bias is for shared custody if that is possible. (California Family Code § 3040)

4. Myth: Teenagers get to pick which divorced parent they want to live with.

If a child is age 14 or older, the judge is required to listen to what the child has to say about his preferences, unless he deems that it is not appropriate, for example, if the child is mentally handicapped. The court does not have to honor the child’s wishes and if the child is younger than 14 the judge does not have to ask. (FC § 3042)

5. What is Juvenile Court?

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Juvenile Court is a special venue for people under age 18. It makes decisions about children who have been abused or abandoned. It addresses the problems of children who have committed offenses like truancy or who are beyond parental control and need supervision. It also adjudicates cases of children considered delinquent, who have committed acts that in the adult world are considered crimes. The judge may decide to prosecute a youth as an adult.

6. Tip: Do your children know what to do if they are approached or questioned by police? Given what we are hearing in the news about events across the country, you might want to review with them what their rights are and how best to respond to police. A child who has committed no crime may still be arrested for resisting arrest or assaulting a police officer. (PC § 241.4, 243) So they should be polite and cooperative, although they do not need to give information beyond their name, address, parents’ names and phone numbers. (W&IC § 625)

Police may do a limited pat-down to check for weapons. (PC § 833.5) Without making an arrest, however, police may only request to search a backpack, locker or bedroom, and the minor may decline. If a minor is taken into custody, he will be given an opportunity to call a parent or other adult within an hour. (W&IC § 308 b) Make sure your kids know, no matter what has happened, they should contact you. If your child is ever mistreated or otherwise injured by a police officer, it is important to identify the officer and witnesses and, and to photograph any injuries.

For information about the laws that apply to kids and parents, you can order online a free copy of “The Kids and the Law,” a publication of the California Bar Foundation.

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Lenore Hirsch is a retired school principal living in Napa. Send questions to lenorehirsch@att.net. Please include your child’s age or grade.