Kid law, part seven: Kids and cops |

Kid law, part seven: Kids and cops

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

In the first six parts of this series, we have covered a myriad of matters pertaining to kids and the law. If you think you might find something useful, go to, and under “Services,” pick “Archives” and search “Columnists” for “Robbins.”

In this part of this series, we’ll look at parents’ rights and responsibilities, kids and privacy and kids’ encounters with law enforcement.

What are a parent’s rights and responsibilities when it comes to their kids? To start, you’ve got to clothe and feed the little buggers and provide them with a roof over their heads and the other necessities of life. Next, you’ve got to make decisions for them, like where they’ll live, what schools they will attend, what religious upbringing they will practice and what medical care they will receive. These rights are constitutionally protected and cannot be taken away from a parent unless a parent is judged unfit. You must also keep the little angels under some semblance of control. If they buck parental authority, you have the right to discipline but not abuse them.

In extreme circumstances, when a child is beyond parental control, the parent may seek to give up parental responsibility for the child or the court may order an especially incorrigible child be judicially supervised or even made a ward of the court.

It should be noted that simple defiance by a kid rarely rises to the level of requiring judicial intervention. In fact, although a parent is generally not legally liable for a child’s conduct, if a parent allows or encourages a child to do something unreasonably dangerous or illegal, the parent can be held to account for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, child abuse or neglect. What’s more, if parents know or should have known that their child’s actions are unlawful, unduly dangerous or improper, the parents can, at least in some circumstances, be held legally or even criminally responsible for their children’s actions.

When parents divorce or separate, they are still attached to their children. A parent must support his or her child notwithstanding the current state of his or her marriage and regardless of whether the parents ever were married at all.

Kids and cops

When a child encounters law enforcement, he or she should understand his or her rights and responsibilities. First, a child always should make certain that if he or she is stopped by an officer, the officer is, in fact, a lawful peace officer and not an impersonator. The child should understand that law enforcement officers are armed and may use reasonable force to protect themselves. They should understand, too, that assaulting a police officer is a crime even if no prior crime had been committed.

Children are afforded the same constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures as adults. Generally, law enforcement officers may only conduct a full-scale search of someone who has been placed under arrest and the person may only be taken into custody upon probable cause. When a child is not arrested and an officer asks permission to search a backpack, locker or other property of the child, regardless of the child’s age, he or she has a 4th Amendment right to respectfully decline.

When arrested, a child should remain silent. He or she is required only to give his or her name, address, parents’ names and telephone numbers to the police. The child may refuse to give any other information until such time as he or she has spoken with his/her parents and/or an attorney. A child must be given the same Miranda warning as an adult (that is that they have the right to remain silent, have the right to an attorney present during questioning, have the right to court-appointed counsel if they cannot afford one, and that anything they say may be used against them).

When taken into custody, a child has the right to call his or her parents and to be advised of the charges against him or her.


As to privacy, the United States Constitution protects only a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” That distinction may open the door to “reasonable” searches by school personnel and drug testing of student athletes. Nonetheless, a “legitimate government purpose” must outweigh the individual’s expectation of privacy.

A kid’s expectation of privacy at home may be another matter. For example, if a parent asks police to search his or her child’s bedroom, generally, the child’s expectation of privacy is trumped.

There is division among the states regarding a child’s decisions regarding when and under what circumstances may a child make such important personal decisions such as obtaining birth control, being treated for a sexually transmitted disease, obtaining an abortion or being treated for rape, obtaining treatment for drug or alcohol addiction and other similar matters without parental knowledge or consent.

In the next and penultimate part of this series: Kids and sex, smoking, stealing and the receipt of stolen property.

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 970/926.4461 or at his e-mail address:

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