Over the years, I’ve encountered two common situations. Either, I’m representing a juvenile in a criminal case, and his or her parents called the police “to teach them a lesson.” Or I get a call from exhausted parents who tell me, “look, James, I’ve done everything I can. I just can't take it anymore, I’ve got to call the police on my kid because I can’t control [him or her].”

To be clear, at the time of writing this article, I’m on the verge of my 33rd birthday. I’m not married and don’t have kids. That said, I’ve been practicing criminal law for almost 9 years, and have defended countless juveniles and clients with mental health issues. And what I can say is – you better think long and hard about getting law enforcement involved to teach him or her a lesson or simply because you can’t control them.

Think twice before calling law enforcement

Look, law enforcement serves an important purpose. And in some instances an arrest can serve as a wake-up call for a struggling youth. But be clear that the criminal justice system (both juvenile and adult)has significant limitations. By seeking prosecution of your child, you’re handing off a substantial control of your child’s future to the discretion of law enforcement and prosecutors who may or may not relate to your (or your child's)circumstances.

While I respect law enforcement and prosecutors – their jobs are important and necessary. They are human beings, and their viewpoints, life experience, competency, etc. vary widely. While some may exercise discretion in a productive way, others will be overzealous and be more interested in a conviction rather than rehabilitation. Also, the circumstances may place them in a position where their hands are tied, legally speaking, by the limitations of the criminal justice system.

What that means is that once you “get the ball rolling” against your child, you may not be able to stop it.

Law enforcement enforces criminal statutes. Jails incarcerate people. They aren't doctors or hospitals.

Initiating a criminal investigation against your child can have huge implications meaning serious crimes can be brought. For instance, your son keeps taking your car without your permission. Well Unlawful Use of a Vehicle is a Felony in Virginia. You found a fake ID in your daughter’s car; False ID in Virginia is a “crime of moral turpitude,” that can affect her in many ways. Your kid is smoking marijuana with his friends and you find out? In additional to possession of marijuana, he or she may be liable for distribution of marijuana, which can be a serious felony.

And when it comes to parents with children showing mental health issues, it takes only a quick Google search to see countless stories of the criminal justice’s system’s inability to adequately deal with mental illness. Stated simply, our jails and juvenile detention centers are not equipped to understand and handle mental illness. They are not hospitals.


Having defended many juvenile cases and mental health cases, I get it. You – the parents – are in a seemingly endless battle and you are exhausted. If you could just get some professional help, things may change. And that is indeed true.

But be clear that the criminal justice system is very limited and focuses mainly on punishment (as opposed to rehabilitation). Before you make any drastic decisions, seek out professional help, be it counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, etc. Do your research and put the work in.

For more questions, feel free to call BenGlassLaw.

James S. Abrenio
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Focusing on criminal, traffic defense and personal injury cases
A very fine article that many parents should read. I, too, have come across a number of parents who voiced that thought when dealing with a difficult situation. They just don't get the fact that it is MUCH more difficult to get the police and social services out of the child's life than it is to get them involved in it. Again, a very good bit of advice for parents.
by Elden Sodowsky August 26, 2016 at 04:42 PM
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