Vail Law: Part six of Rohn Robbins’ ‘turning 18’ series
Vail, CO, Colorado
This final part of the series, “on Turning 18…,” deals with the adult obligations of citizenship and a brief overview of criminal and civil law
As in other parts of this series, what is recited here is intended to be general in nature and does not dwell upon the specifics of Colorado law.
At 18 you can help determine the future of your country and community as long as you are a citizen of the United States, not in prison or on parole for conviction of a felony, and have registered to vote. Also at 18, you may serve on a jury. To serve as a juror, in addition to being at least 18, you must be a citizen, live in the court’s jurisdiction, be able to understand English, and not be a convicted felon. Employers are required to give employees time off for jury duty (your time off may however be unpaid).
Although the military draft ended years ago, if you are a male, U.S. citizen or male immigrant living in the Unites States, you generally must register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of your 18th birthday. Women are exempt. The failure of a male to register as required may subject him to a maximum $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison. If you are an immigrant male between the ages of 18 to 25, you must register to remain eligible for citizenship.
You may register with Selective Service by means including registering on line at http://www.sss.gov, picking up a form at the post office, or checking the appropriate box on a Federal Student Financial Aid form. If you wish to enlist in the military, you will not need your parents’ consent once you turn 18.
Once you turn 18, you face much more serious consequences if you break the law. Rather than availing yourself of the juvenile justice system (which focuses on rehabilitation), you will now face adult penalties.
There are three general types of crimes: felonies, misdemeanors and infractions. Felonies are the most serious and can result in commitment to prison for more than a year. Some serious felonies may subject you to life in prison without the possibility of parole or even the death penalty. Misdemeanors are less serious and can result in jail time of up to one year. Infractions generally do not subject you to jail time but may result in a fine.
Ignorance, you have undoubtedly heard before, is no excuse.
If you’re arrested, you will be searched, handcuffed, taken to a police station and booked. You will be advised of your rights, including the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent. Be aware that there is no privacy in a police station; anything you say, to anyone can be used against you. If you are booked, you will usually make an initial appearance before the court within 24 hours unless you are arrested on a holiday or weekend (then, you may have to wait until the court is next in session).
Under most (but not all circumstances), once you have made your initial appearance before the court, the court will set bail and, upon payment of the bail amount, you will be released (this does not mean, however, that the charges against you will be dropped – you will be expected to return to court for all future proceedings in your matter). If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
If you are convicted of a crime, you will have a criminal record which may haunt you for years to come. It may impact your ability to obtain a driver’s license. It may prevent you from being accepted to a college or university. It may prevent you from joining the armed forces. You may lose the right to vote. A criminal conviction may impair your ability to obtain certain kinds of employment. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may be deported and barred from returning to the United States.
Civil actions pertain to lawsuits instead of crimes (although some types of behaviors can lead to a lawsuit and also be a crime). A civil suit is one where someone sues you (or you sue someone) in order to recovery monetary damages or something else to compensate the injured party for an injury, loss or damage to property. A civil suit may also compel the party against whom it’s brought to do (or not do) something.
When you turn 18, you can sue – or be sued – in civil court. If you lose a civil lawsuit, you may be ordered to pay some or all of the damages awarded to the prevailing party. Additionally, depending upon the specific circumstances, you may be ordered to pay the other side’s attorney fees and costs of litigation.
Hopefully, this column has given you at least a general outline of the laws which may affect you upon reaching the age of 18 but it is meant to be both broad and general. When faced with specific needs or questions, it is always best to consult with an attorney. Although the best way to locate an attorney who can help you is by referral, the bar association of whichever state you’re in can also be of help in referring you to competent counsel.
You have turned 18. It is a time of new freedoms and new responsibilities. As long as the obligations are handled responsibly, turning 18 will be an exciting adventure. Remember, though, in the eyes of the law – for most purposes anyway – you are now an adult and are expected to conduct yourself like one. Whether you do or not, however, the law will treat you like one and can be unforgiving. Go forth – responsibly – and conquer!
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on EC) TV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.