What is legal punishment for my minor son if he is caught stealing or embezzling from his employer?
UPDATED: February 6, 2020
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While the exact punishment will vary with the age of the child, the amount embezzled, and your specific state, stealing and embezzlement (a form of theft) are both crimes and crimes can carry jail time even for minors.
For all people--minors as well as adults--the potential penalties for stealing differ with two significant variables:
1) Your state. Every state has its own criminal law, and that law includes the punishment(s) for different criminal acts. Therefore, stealing in North Dakota may get you a different punishment than stealing the exact same amount in California.
2) The amount stolen. The more stolen, the more severe the crime, and hence, the more severe the potential punishment(s).
The impact of your particular state on possible punishments is magnified when the accused is a minor. While all states treat minors more leniently than adult criminals, in recognition of minors’ less-developed brains, reasoning capacity, and impulse control, as well as their lesser life experience, some states are more lenient towards minors than others, and are more apt to try to reform them without (hopefully) ruining their future lives than other states.
In addition, each state is free to adopt for itself different ages at which--for criminal law purposes--children are no longer treated as minors. Some states treat anyone under 18 as a minor, but others may treat children as young as 16 or even 14 as adults for criminal law purposes, at least with respect to certain crimes.
Therefore, it is impossible to state what punishment a minor will get in general terms. For example, a 15-year-old in New Jersey who steals $200 will be treated very differently than a 17-year-old who steals $2,000 in Texas. For this reason, as well as those discussed below, it is vital that you hire an experienced attorney to represent and defend your son. You need advice and assistance from someone who knows the details of how minor crimes are handled in your state.
That said, there are some general statements that can be made:
(1) When it comes to stealing, it doesn't really matter how it was done (so long as it was not done by violence or threat of violence, which makes the crimes and punishment much more severe). Pocketing money from the cash drawer is essentially the same as stealing inventory or forging a business check or using the business owner's credit card without his permission. It also doesn't matter if it was all done at once, or if the money was taken over time. Stealing $500 from the employer by pocketing $5 from 100 transactions with customers may be treated the same as taking $500 from the cash register at one time. Therefore, do not think that doing something like taking a few dollars out every time (or every few times) your son interacted with customers will somehow be better for your son than if he had jimmied the lock to the cash box and taken money out in one transaction.
(2) Be aware that all theft carries with it the possibility of jail time (for your son) and fines (for you), so if your son stole, being jailed is a possibility.
(3) The juvenile justice system--the justice system for those still considered children or minors for criminal purposes--is much more focused on rehabilitation and giving children a "second chance" than on punishment or justice. So IF your son's crime is handled in the juvenile system, then even though he could face imprisonment, he is much more likely to avoid it.
(4) Another advantage of the juvenile system is that its records tend to be sealed, so a criminal conviction will not haunt and follow your son, the same way a conviction in the "adult" criminal justice system will. Therefore, often THE critical factor in the outcome your son will face is whether he is in fact handled through the juvenile system or whether he instead has to face the adult system.
That is why an experienced juvenile defense attorney is so critical. He or she will help make sure
a) that your son's case remains in the juvenile system, if it is possible (given his age) for him to be processed in that system; and will
b) know how to best present the case to the authorities so they focus on rehabilitation, not punishment.