Most drug charges faced by Coloradans who are between the ages of 10 and 18 are processed through juvenile courts. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean your child will get off easy. Penalties for juvenile drug charges can still be severe, ranging from fines and detention to commitment to the Division of Youth Corrections.
In this article, we will explain how Colorado handles juvenile drug charges, outline potential penalties for these charges, and discuss how a criminal defense attorney can help if your child has been charged with a drug-related offense. You can also look at this infographic for a brief overview: We Fight Juvenile Drug Charges
Is Your Child Facing Juvenile Drug Charges?
Children make mistakes. They are generally more susceptible to peer pressure than adults, and they often lack the necessary life experience to make sound decisions. Still, juvenile drug charges can follow your child well into adulthood if you do not take swift action. Robinson & Henry’s Criminal Defense Team is experienced in handling juvenile cases. Give us a call today at 303-688-0944 to begin your free case assessment.
Juvenile Drug Charges and Colorado Courts
In most cases, state and federal crimes involving a minor fall under the jurisdiction of Colorado’s juvenile court system.
However, some juvenile drug charges are handled by county courts. These include:
- minor in possession of alcohol or marijuana
- minor in possession of drug paraphernalia
- advertisement or sale of drug paraphernalia
- driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Colorado Minor in Possession Laws
For individuals under the age of 21, it is illegal in Colorado to possess or consume:
- ethyl alcohol
- drug paraphernalia
Being caught with any of these substances can result in juvenile drug charges.
A minor in possession (MIP) of marijuana paraphernalia is illegal only when the child knows it could be used to consume weed.
Paraphernalia includes items specific to marijuana like bongs, pipes, and roach clips.
Colorado Minor in Possession Penalties
A minor in possession (MIP) charge is considered an unclassified petty offense under Colorado law. These juvenile drug charges carry no jail time. However, a conviction could result in monetary fines and substance abuse treatment or classes.
Importantly: Under Colorado law, parents can be held responsible for the costs of their child’s incarceration, in addition to restitution and fines. This can include costs associated with residential care if your child is required to complete outpatient substance abuse treatment. C.R.S. § 19-2.5-1120
First MIP Conviction
The first MIP conviction can mean paying up to $100 in fines. Additionally, your child could be required to complete a substance abuse education class.
Second MIP Conviction
If your child is convicted on a second minor in possession charge, he or she could still face up to a $100 fine. A judge also may order:
- a substance abuse education class
- possibly a substance abuse assessment and treatment, and
- up to 24 hours of public service
Third or Subsequent MIP Conviction
Penalties are harsher for repeat MIP offenders. A third or subsequent conviction can result in:
- up to $250 in fines
- a substance abuse assessment and possible treatment, and
- up to 36 hours of public service
Other Juvenile Drug Charges
Charges relating to the manufacturing or distribution of drugs are more often misdemeanors or felonies that are handled via Colorado’s juvenile court system.
Sentencing for Juvenile Drug Charges
At the sentencing hearing, the judge can choose from a wide range of punishment options. These can include one or more of the following:
- Commitment to the Department of Human Services for up to two years. (The most serious offenders can face a seven-year sentence.) Commitment includes a mandatory parole period of at least six months.
- If your child is 18 older at the time of sentencing, the judge can sentence him or her to county jail or to community corrections.
- Detention for up to 45 days
- Placement with a relative, another suitable person, or into the custody of the county department of social services.
- Placement in a hospital
- A monetary fine
Can My Child Be Tried As An Adult?
In certain instances, a minor may be transferred from juvenile court to district court and prosecuted as an adult. Factors that affect this decision include:
- the child’s age
- the severity of the criminal charges
- the child’s prior delinquency record
- the district attorney’s desire to transfer the case from juvenile court to district court
The process to try a juvenile as an adult is initiated through a juvenile court transfer hearing or a direct file in district court.
In Colorado, a person 12 years old or older may be tried as an adult if charged with a class 1 or class 2 felony.
What Happens if My Child is Arrested on Juvenile Drug Charges?
A law enforcement officer can take your child into temporary custody without a court order if there are reasonable grounds to believe that your juvenile has committed a delinquent act. C.R.S. § 19-2-502(1)
Civilian Adults Can Detain Minors in Certain Circumstances
It’s not only members of law enforcement who can detain your child on juvenile drug charges. You should know that any adult may temporarily detain your child if he or she has committed, or is committing, a delinquent act in the presence of that adult.
If this happens, the adult must notify a law enforcement officer “without unnecessary delay” so that the officer can assume custody of the minor. C.R.S. § 19-2.5-209
What this means: If your child’s teacher catches him or her smoking a joint on school grounds, the teacher can legally detain your child until the police arrive.
What if My Child is Detained by Police?
Police are legally required to notify you if your child is arrested on juvenile drug charges. Additionally, Colorado law affords your child the right to a hearing within 48 hours of being detained.
This hearing will determine whether your child will be released or continue to be detained. Hearings are not held on weekends or legal holidays.
In addition to notifying you of your child’s detention, police are also required to promptly “notify the court, the district attorney, and the local office of the state public defender” that a minor has been taken into custody. C.R.S. § 19-2-508(1)
Your Child Has a Right to Legal Representation
Your child must be represented by a lawyer at the detention hearing. If you do not retain a lawyer for your child, the court will appoint a Colorado public defender to represent him or her. C.R.S. § 19-2.5-305
Police Cannot Interrogate Your Child Without You Present
Per Miranda v. Arizona, law enforcement is required to inform anyone who has been arrested of their rights before questioning begins.
In cases involving minors, there is an additional requirement. A juvenile must be accompanied by his or her parent, guardian, or legal custodian during the interrogation. C.R.S. § 19-2-210, 8B
Let’s take a look at what happens when law enforcement skips this step.
A Colorado Case of Juvenile Interrogation
Police officers executed a no-knock search warrant on an Aurora apartment where a juvenile girl and three males were staying. The officers secured the apartment, patted down the occupants, and placed them into custody. All four people, including the girl, were handcuffed in the living room.
One officer found a brown purse in the apartment’s master bedroom. The officer brought the purse into the living room and asked all four suspects to whom the purse belonged. The girl answered, “That’s mine.” She had not been advised of her Miranda rights at that time.
The officer later found a dried psilocybin mushroom inside the girl’s purse. She was arrested and charged in a delinquency proceeding for possession of a schedule I controlled substance.
Defense Kept Girl’s Statement Out of Court
The girl’s defense attorney filed a motion to suppress the statements she made to the police. An Arapahoe County district court granted the defense’s motion, concluding that:
the officer’s inquiry constituted custodial interrogation, that the juvenile was not advised before questioning of her Miranda rights, and that she was questioned outside the presence of a parent, guardian, or legal or physical custodian.
People ex rel. D.F.L., 931 P.2d 448, 449 (Colo. 1997)
Prosecutors Fought to Present Statement in Court
Prosecutors appealed the decision to suppress the girl’s statements concerning her ownership of the purse. They contended that “the officer’s general inquiry directed to all four individuals as to the ownership of the purse was not interrogation because the officer at that time was not aware of the fact that the purse contained contraband.”
“Thus, according to the People, the officer did not know, nor should she have known, that the question might elicit an incriminating response.” People ex rel. D.F.L., 931 P.2d 448, 454 (Colo. 1997)
The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed and upheld the district court’s ruling:
… we hold that under the facts of this case, the juvenile could not be questioned concerning the ownership of the purse unless she was properly advised under Miranda and the requirements of section 19-2-210, 8B C.R.S. (1996 Supp.) were met. Because the police were authorized to search the purse pursuant to the search warrant and the juvenile was in custody, we find that the officer should have known that her question concerning the ownership of the purse was likely to elicit an incriminating response.
People ex rel. D.F.L., 931 P.2d 448, 455-56 (Colo. 1997)
When Juveniles Can Consent to a Police Search
Importantly, the defense in the case cited above, People ex rel. D.F.L., falls apart if your child is not in police custody on juvenile drug charges and validly consents to a search of his or her belongings. Let’s look at another Colorado case.
Teen Arrested at DIA
In 1988, a 17-year-old girl was arrested on juvenile drug charges at Denver International Airport after police found crack cocaine in her carry-on bag.
The girl’s attorney filed a motion to suppress the contents of her bag. At the hearing, the teenager contended that “no one asked her for permission to search the bag, and no one told her that she could refuse the search.” People in Interest of S.J., 778 P.2d 1384, 1386 (Colo. 1989)
However, a Denver police lieutenant testified that he asked the girl if he could search her carry-on, and she said yes. He maintained he advised her that she did not have to allow him to search her bag. She said, “No, go ahead.”
The Question of the Teen’s Consent to a Search
A Denver County juvenile court initially granted the girl’s motion to suppress the evidence of that search because she did not have a parent or guardian present with her when she consented.
Prosecutors appealed the decision all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court. The state’s highest court held that, because the teen was not in custody at the time, she could voluntarily consent to the search without a parent or guardian:
Applying the same standards of consent to a search in a noncustodial setting as would be applied to an adult, the court concluded that defendant’s consent was valid. People in Interest of S.J., 778 P.2d 1384, 1384 (Colo. 1989)
Criminal Defense Attorneys for Juvenile Drug Charges
Juvenile drug charges can completely alter the course of your child’s life, and yours by extension. In this situation, it is imperative that you contact the R&H Criminal Defense Team immediately. Our highly skilled attorneys can work with prosecutors toward a rehabilitative solution rather than a punitive one. Call 303-688-0944 to begin your free case assessment.