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If Your Teen Joins a Gang, What Should You Legally Do?

Parents do their best to keep their kids out of trouble. Sadly, the best isn't always good enough. For a multitude of reasons, children can turn to rebellious, illegal activities during their teenage years, even going so far as to join gangs.

If those gangs are engaged in criminal activity, parents should rightly be concerned, not only for their teens' criminal liability but for their own. Here's what you need to know.

Gang Crimes

Of course there are any number of criminal activities for which gangs and gang members can be liable, spanning from simple graffiti and vandalism to drug trafficking and murder. And a teen participating in those crimes can be arrested, charged, convicted, and incarcerated. Although the procedure for juveniles charged with crimes can differ from that for adults, teens may be charged and tried as adults if the crime is serious enough. And many jurisdictions have gang enhancements, which increase penalties if a member is convicted.

But gang membership can implicate teens in other ways as well. Even if your child didn't sell drugs or commit assault him- or herself, they could still be charged with conspiracy or under accomplice liability, and the penalties for such convictions can be as severe as for the crime itself. And in some states and counties, gang affiliation in and of itself can be a crime.

Parental Crimes

While rare, parents can be held liable for the crimes of their children. Parental liability can begin with school delinquency and extend to more serious crimes, depending on what the parent knew and when they knew it. In California, for example, parents can be liable if they knew of a teen's potential misconduct and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent that misconduct. In Illinois and Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia, parents can be liable if a teen gains access to a firearm that wasn't properly stored. And many states will hold parents financially responsible for their child's property crimes.

Parents and children are not perfect, but there are better and worse ways for parents to respond to their children joining a gang. Start by contacting a criminal defense attorney in your area.

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