Are Parents Criminally Liable for the Actions of Their Children in SC?

Since the announcement of involuntary manslaughter charges against the parents of a 15-year-old child in Michigan who is accused of killing four students at Oxford High School, many parents have been wondering – can parents be criminally liable for the actions of their children?

In most cases, if your child has been charged with a crime in juvenile court or adult court, you do not need to worry about being arrested yourself.

Parents are generally not criminally liable for the actions of their children in SC, but there are situations where parents can be held civilly liable for the actions of their children.

Below, we will discuss:

  • When parents can be held civilly liable for their children in SC,
  • When parents can be held criminally liable for their children in SC, and
  • SC’s involuntary manslaughter laws and why they will not ordinarily apply to parents.

Civil Liability of Parents in SC

Civil liability of parents for the actions of their children is something that happens often in SC. The most common scenarios involve 1) statutory liability for damage to property up to $5000, 2) statutory liability for auto accidents when a parent signs for a teenager’s driver’s license, and 3) the family purpose doctrine.

Damage to Property

If your child is charged with malicious injury to personal property in the juvenile court, you will most likely not be charged with a crime yourself, but you may be held liable for the damage that was done by your child.

SC Code § 63-5-60 says that if your child 1) is younger than 18, 2) lives with you, and 3) damages, destroys, or steals property, you can be held liable for the alleged victim’s losses up to $5000.

The statute says that the liability is “joint and several.” This means that your child is liable, you are liable, and the alleged victim can collect from your child, from you, or both.

Imputed Liability of Person Who Signs for a Teen’s Driver’s License

Another way that parents can be held civilly, but not criminally, liable in SC for the actions of their children is when 1) the parent signs their child’s application for a driver’s license and 2) the child is sued for negligence.

SC Code § 56-1-110 makes the co-signer liable for any damages caused by negligence or intentional conduct when the child is driving – and it’s not limited to $5000.

The Family Purpose Doctrine

Another way that parents can be civilly liable for their child’s negligence is through the “family purpose doctrine.”

When the head of the family “owns, furnishes, and maintains a vehicle” for the use of the family’s members, they are liable for any accidents that occur when a family member is authorized to use the vehicle. In most cases, this involves a teenager causing an accident that a parent must then pay for…

Criminal Liability of Parents in SC

But what about criminal liability of parents for the actions of their children?

In SC, parents are not held criminally liable for the actions of their children, although there are (sort of) some exceptions. For example, a parent can be jailed when their child does not attend school.

Truancy

A parent could be jailed because their child misses too many days of school.

The school, DSS, and any other agency that is involved will usually first attempt to help the parent help the child get to class. When the child continues to miss school, though, the parent will be called into the family court to explain why.

If the family court then orders the parent to get their kid to school, and the parent fails to do so, the parent could be held in contempt of court or charged criminally with their child’s truancy.

Technically, though, this isn’t a parent being held liable for their child’s actions – it’s the parent being held criminally liable for the parent’s actions (not following a court order and not getting their kids to school).

Involuntary Manslaughter

The parents of the alleged Michigan school shooter were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter because (based on the public information) the state alleges 1) they provided their 15-year-old child with the murder weapon, and 2) they failed to act despite numerous red flags and signs that their child was going to kill other students.

This is an exceptionally rare action for a prosecutor to take – the Michigan prosecutor who brought the charges acknowledged that it had never been done before in Michigan (although she also says did not know that at the time she filed the charges).

In SC, I can’t see any way a parent could be criminally charged with manslaughter based on the actions of a child unless the parent was directly involved in the killing.

Involuntary manslaughter requires proof of criminal negligence – a reckless disregard for the safety of others, and 1) that the defendant killed another person while engaged in an illegal activity that would not ordinarily result in death or great bodily injury; or 2) that the defendant killed another person while engaged in a lawful activity.

In either case, it requires a killing – although a parent may be negligent in providing a weapon for their child and for failing to warn the school about the child’s potentially homicidal tendencies, the parent would not be charged with involuntary manslaughter unless the parent directly caused the person’s death.

I have my doubts about the validity of the Michigan prosecutor’s case against the alleged school shooter’s parents, and, in SC, I do not see any way that a parent could be criminally charged based solely on the actions of their child.

SC Criminal Defense Lawyers in Charleston, SC

Grant B. Smaldone is a SC criminal defense lawyer based in Charleston, SC. If you – or your child – have been charged with a crime in the Charleston, SC area, call Charleston criminal defense lawyer Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or send an email to set up a free initial consultation today.


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