Vail Daily column: Now that you’re 18 …
Editor’s note: This is the sixth part of a six-part series.
This final part of the Turning 18 series 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. Instead, it is intended to summarize the law broadly and to emphasize what is common among the majority of states.
DETERMINE THE FUTURE
At 18 if you are a citizen of the United States, not in prison or on parole for conviction of a felony, and have registered to vote, then you can help determine the future by exercising your franchise to elect your favorite candidates. 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 of the United States, live in the court’s jurisdiction (that is, the geographic area in which it exercises its authority), be able to understand English and not be a convicted felon. Although you may be selected randomly from a variety of data bases to report for jury duty, you must actually be selected to serve in a particular trial in order to be seated as a juror. Employers are required to give employees time off for jury duty (your time off might, however, be unpaid).
REGISTER WITH SELECTIVE SERVICE SYSTEM
Although the military draft ended years ago, if you are a male, U.S. citizen or male immigrant living in the Unites States, then you generally must register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of your 18th birthday. Women remain exempt. The failure of a male to register as required could 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, then you must register to remain eligible for citizenship.
You may register with Selective Service by any of several means: registering online at http://www.sss.gov, by picking up a form at the post office and mailing it in, mailing in a completed Selective Service reminder card (mailed to most males on their 18th birthday), checking the appropriate box on a Federal Student Financial Aid form, registering at your high school, or registering at any U.S. embassy or consular office if you are living overseas. If you wish to enlist in the military, then you will not need your parents’ consent once you turn 18.
FACING THE LAW AS AN ADULT
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. If you do something illegal without realizing it was a crime, then you are still guilty of the crime. Ignorance of the law, you have undoubtedly heard before, is no excuse.
If you’re arrested, then you will be searched, handcuffed, taken to a police or sheriff’s station and booked. You will be advised of your rights, including the rights 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 (police officers or not — for example persons charged with crimes) can be used against you. If you are booked, then 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, then one will be appointed for you.
CRIMINAL RECORDS COULD HAUNT YOU
If you are convicted of a crime, then 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, then 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, then 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.
TIME OF NEW FREEDOM, NEW RESPONSIBILITIES
Hopefully, this series 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. So 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 with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.