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'90S FAMILY

Legal Briefs on Child-Rearing

June 22, 1997|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Your kid has committed a crime if he or she:

* Threatens to beat up a teacher unless the teacher gives him or her a passing grade? (Yes.)

* Drinks a beer given to him or her by a parent? (No.)

* Cruises through a stop sign on a bike without stopping? (Yes.)

* Joins a gang? (No.)

Daily, children and their parents encounter the law--often without answers to their questions. But a new handbook, "Kids and the Law: An A-to-Z Guide for Parents," published by the State Bar of California, offers information on a wide range of laws and legal issues involving children.

The booklet is the result of a State Bar-commissioned survey conducted last year of 600 California youngsters who said the laws they break the most are beating up someone (30%), curfew (24%) and skipping school (12%).

Author Thomas A. Nazario, who teaches family law and children's rights at the University of San Francisco School of Law, provides nuts-and-bolts information on current and changing laws, and offers practical examples and a glossary of legal terms in the booklet.

Following are highlights of the free booklet. For a copy, call (800) 445-4LAW. (Bulk orders include a handling charge).

*

Alcohol: The minimum age for drinking in California is 21. This means that the sale or transfer of an alcoholic beverage (defined as having at least one half of 1% alcohol) to anyone under that age is prohibited. The consumption or possession of an alcoholic beverage by a minor is legal if it occurs in the child's home with a parent's permission or in the presence of the minor's parents.

*

Wheels: A bicycle rider must abide by most of the traffic laws that apply to vehicles, such as stopping at stop signs and lights, riding on the proper side of the street and giving pedestrians the right of way. Bike riders 18 and younger must wear a helmet. Wearing a radio headset is against the law while riding a bike, as is riding on someone's handlebars, on the center frame bar or over the rear tire of a bike.

There are few laws that relate to skateboards and skates. Basically, if a child is on skates, a board or a bike, chances are he or she will be held responsible for hitting someone or damaging someone's property.

*

Truancy: In California, the law requires that children between 6 and 18 or high school graduation attend school full time. Children who are not in school or who are tardy in excess of 30 minutes without a valid excuse for four or more days over the course of a school year are legally truants. If a student reaches "habitual truant" status (reported as truant three or more times during the school year), a criminal complaint can be filed against parents, who can be fined up to $500 or ordered to attend a parent education and counseling program.

*

Curfew: Local laws may vary, but most curfew ordinances prohibit minors from being out past 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends. Fines of up to $250 can be levied against parents if their children violate local curfew laws. Also, a child who is a frequent or habitual curfew violator may be declared a ward of the court and treated as a status offender.

*

Disturbing the peace: In California, kids can face disorderly conduct charges (up to 90 days in jail and / or a $400 fine) if they are caught fighting in public, challenging someone to a fight, making loud noises, having a party so loud that it unreasonably disturbs the community, or using foul language in a public place that is likely to lead to violence.

*

Emancipation: Some kids believe that they have the right to "divorce" their parents or seek emancipation without their parents' permission. The truth is, the emancipation process is very complex and requires a parent's acquiescence for a court to approve such a process.

*

Fighting: When kids are caught fighting, police officers have several options. They can contact the parents and escort the children home. More often, particularly if someone has been injured or property has been damaged, police officers will arrest the minor. When this occurs, a child may be charged with assault and battery or disturbing the peace. In a situation where one child agrees to meet the other after school and fight it out, both would be charged.

*

Gangs: In response to gangs carrying guns and terrorizing neighborhoods, California lawmakers have passed some new laws. The California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act defines a "criminal street gang" as a group of three or more individuals whose primary intent is to commit one or more specific criminal acts--assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, homicide, burglary, rape and kidnapping. Under this law, the state can prosecute parents of gang members and hold them criminally liable for their child's gang-related activities. Under this law, parental neglect is punishable by up to one year in jail and / or a $2,500 fine.

*

Privacy: Can a parent read a child's diary or listen in on phone conversations? There exists little law on this issue and courts would probably consider the parent-child relationship and the parents' right to raise their children as they see fit. Courts would probably defer to the parent's child-rearing prerogative and would not consider the parent's actions a violation of the child's rights. What about searching kids' rooms? Most courts have stated that parents or guardians have a property interest in the entire home and are allowed to search that property or to consent to a police search.

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