Do I Need an Attorney if My Teenager is Arrested?

Man with backpack being arrested

The answer to that question is “Yes.” And, while I will be addressing teenage arrests, it is important to remember that these observations can apply to anyone, not just teenagers. The bottom line: anyone who is arrested for a crime in New York needs to be represented by a lawyer.

However, as a parent myself, I realize that such black and white commentary is often not enough for parents and when it’s your child, things are not that simple.

Parents want to protect their children, protect their futures and shield them from the potential “horrors” of the criminal justice system. And, their fears are justified. In my nearly 25 years of practice, I have seen how a criminal arrest and conviction can have long-lasting impacts on a teenager. It might affect their schooling, psyche, socialization with peers and family, and their ability to get a job or a loan – and, that is not even factoring in any potential jail time. I say this, not to necessarily scare parents, but to motivate them to act as quickly as possible. If your teenager is under investigation, has been contacted by the police or has been arrested, don’t just assume that you’ll be able to work things out for your son or daughter. And, don’t assume that things will just “blow over” in time and don’t believe that the police will excuse your teenager’s behavior because they understand that young people sometimes make mistakes.

Law enforcement (police and prosecutors) are there to enforce the laws. They do this by investigating crimes and working hard to convict people who break the law. Criminal statutes do not provide immunity from prosecution for teenagers and the poor decisions that they make.

Some Basic Rules for Parents

  1. No Talking!

When I was a kid, my grandfather used to say, “children should be seen, not heard.” Parents should heed my grandfather’s advice when their teenager is facing criminal charges and resist the urge to cooperate with the police. Your teenager should not waive his or her right to remain silent and should not speak to the police without first speaking to a lawyer. You’ll notice that I didn’t say “do not give a statement” to the police, I said “do not speak at all to the police.” I want parents to understand that anything that their teenager says can and may be used against them, so ensure they do not say anything other than respectfully stating “I want to speak with my lawyer” at which point all questioning should halt.

  1. Get a Criminal Defense Lawyer

I started this by stating that the answer to the question above is “Yes,” so immediately contact a criminal defense attorney. Obviously, all lawyers have different personalities and mannerisms, so it’s important to find one who will work well with your teenager. It’s also important to find one who has experience dealing with the police, representing teenagers and is well versed in criminal law. In New York, they should be familiar with the “Raise the Age” Legislation which changed how the law treats 16- and 17-year-olds who have been arrested for misdemeanor and felony crimes.

Lastly, don’t worry if you and your teenager get upset or are emotional about the circumstances. That’s perfectly normal and understandable. However, try to remember that when your teenager has been arrested, it is not in their best interests to allow emotions to influence your actions. Do not trust that law enforcement will share your sympathy and worry. In fact, as part of their investigation, they will use your emotions and your natural inclination to protect your teenager to influence your decisions. Do not let this happen – bring a lawyer on board as early as possible to help protect your child.

Stephen J. Riebling, Jr. is a criminal defense attorney and partner with Riebling & Payton, PLLC, located in Westchester County, NY and has been practicing for nearly 25 years. To learn more about Mr. Riebling and the firm, visit Riebling & Payton, PLLC at

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