Kid law, part five: Gangs and graffiti |

Kid law, part five: Gangs and graffiti

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

In the first four parts of this series, we defined what a kid or minor is and looked at the limitations of minority. We also considered laws pertaining to cars, bikes and other means of locomotion, looked at legal issues surrounding child abuse and neglect, body piercing, tattooing and curfew, and talked about drug laws as, in particular, pertains to minors.

In this column, we will visit kids and fighting, gangs, graffiti and vandalism.

Nearly all kids fight, whether with brothers, sisters, friends or “enemies,” perceived or real. It seems a natural part of kiddom. But fighting is one of the most common ways that kids get in trouble with the law.

While a peace officer may often escort the youngster home, the child may instead be arrested, particularly when there are injuries. If arrested, the child could be charged with assault and battery or disturbing the peace. Certain assaults are “worse” than others and may carry stiffer penalties. These include assault on a peace officer or a school employee. Assaults on school property may also have more severe consequences. if a deadly weapon is used, the punishment can be more severe.

While it is sometimes difficult to discern who started a fight ” and self-defense may protect one for charges being brought ” where one child agrees to meet another after school or elsewhere to settle a score, both will likely be charged. It should be noted too that sometimes a mere threat is sufficient to bring charges against a child, particularly in circumstances where a child threatens a teacher or threatens anyone with serious harm.

It is a myth to believe that charges cannot be brought because the combatants are family members. Truth is, the only circumstance where physical force is permitted (other than in self-defense) is where a parent is employing reasonable force to discipline a child.

While not generally a problem here, gangs are a fact of life, especially in urban areas. To combat gangs, some states have enacted laws targeted at gangs and gang members. In California, for example, there is the chillingly titled Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act creating stricter penalties when certain crimes are gang-related. In California, for example, a violent felony committed by a gang member can result in an addition penalty of up to 10 years.

What then is a gang? In many jurisdictions, a gang is defined as a group of three or more persons whose primary purpose for association is to commit certain specific criminal acts.

In many jurisdictions, the parents of gang members can be prosecuted and held criminally liable for their child’s gang-related activities.

In most places recruiting gang members or coercing someone from leaving a gang are crimes. Some municipalities have laws on the books which prevent gang members from gathering in certain areas or wearing gang colors or insignias. While the Constitution guarantees freedom of association, that freedom is not absolute. In many areas, the merely associating as a gang is prohibited by law.

Graffiti and vandalism are related peas in the same pod. A generally accepted definition of graffiti is any unauthorized inscription, word, or design that is written, etched, scratched, marked, drawn or painted on real or personal property. Graffiti is a type of vandalism which can be defined as malicious defacement, damage or destruction of someone else’s property. In many places, the crime is enhanced if the vandalism is committed against public property and in others, even selling a minor a “tool of the trade” ” such as a can of spray paint ” may be a misdemeanor. How severely a tagger may be punished is often a function of the extent of damage he or she has caused. Punishment often includes the court’s order that the tagger clean up or repair the damaged property.

Forms of vandalism other than graffiti can include removal of street signs or construction barriers, damaging street lights, removing a public notice and so forth. Vandalism that is racially targeted can amount to a hate crime.

In addition to the penalties against an offender who is a minor, the minor’s parents can be charged with certain costs, fines and penalties.

In the next part of this series: kids and guns, hate crimes and the internet.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics.

He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 926-4461 or by e-mail at:

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