My Child Was Charged With A Crime. What Now?

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Concerned parent on the phone

Discovering that your child has been charged with a crime can be a profoundly distressing experience. Whether your child is a minor, a college student, or an adult, the shock and worry can feel the same. As a parent, your immediate concern is the well-being of your child and the implications these charges might have on their future. However, it’s important to remember that there are steps you can take to manage this situation.

This blog is designed to guide you through understanding the charges, navigating the legal options available, and providing the right support for your child during this critical time. You do not have to face this alone–with the right information and legal advice, you can take a proactive approach to help your child handle these challenges.

For Parents of Minors (Juvenile Charges)

The juvenile justice system is designed with a focus on rehabilitation, aiming to provide young offenders with opportunities to reform their behaviors without the severe consequences typical of the adult criminal system. Similar to adult proceedings, juvenile cases are generally open to the public. However, the Petition, allegations against your child, and any court documents are generally sealed from the public’s view, helping to protect the privacy of minors and prevent long-term damage to their reputations. There are also circumstances where the proceeding can be closed to the public.

Additionally, juvenile courts are structured to allow for a more adaptive approach to case management, often tailoring interventions to fit the specific needs and circumstances of each juvenile. This flexibility can lead to more personalized and constructive outcomes.

Key Steps for Parents

  • Take Immediate Action: Contact a juvenile defense attorney as soon as you are aware of the charges. Early intervention can significantly impact the proceedings and potentially lead to more favorable outcomes. Our attorneys immediately begin to build a defense strategy and discuss the strategy with the prosecutor in a way that puts the prosecutor at ease with their concerns regarding the child.
  • Understand the Process: Familiarize yourself with the stages of the juvenile justice process, from intake and detention to adjudication and disposition. An attorney can discuss these stages with you, helping you anticipate next steps and preparing accordingly. Serious juvenile criminal cases come with a risk of transfer to adult court as well, so we always discuss whether that is a possibility in your child’s case and what we can do to decrease that chance.
  • Active Participation: Show your commitment to your child’s rehabilitation by actively participating in the process. Attend hearings, meet with counselors, and communicate regularly with your child’s attorney. Your involvement can positively influence the judge’s decisions, especially during disposition. Juvenile court judges often consider the family’s involvement when deciding on a disposition. Show active participation and commitment to your child’s rehabilitation.

Potential Outcomes For Juveniles

  • Dismissal: Our first goal is always to get the case dismissed if possible. We prepare the case and build up your child’s character to show the prosecutor why the case should get dismissed due to issues such as insufficiency of the evidence, inability to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, legal issues, suppression issues, and effect on the individual child.
  • Diversion Programs: For your child might be eligible for diversion programs, which allow the case to potentially be dismissed at the end so long as the child abides by certain conditions. In juvenile court there are multiple types of diversion options such as pre-trial diversion and judicial diversion that both allow the charge to be dismissed at the end, then our attorneys file a motion to get it expunged before the normal time restrictions for expungement. These programs focus on rehabilitation and can prevent further involvement with the justice system.
  • Probation: Rather than detention, your child may be placed on probation. This outcome requires meeting certain conditions, such as attending school regularly and staying out of trouble, which can often be managed at home with your support.
  • Detention: In cases involving more serious offenses or repeated behavior, the court may decide that a juvenile detention facility is the most appropriate setting. Even in such situations, there are often programs available that focus on education and rehabilitation rather than just confinement. However, our attorneys do everything possible to reach a negotiated resolution that does not include detention of the child. If the prosecutor is only offering confinement, then in most cases we would proceed to a trial or adjudicatory hearing to hopefully get the case dismissed or get a better result at the dispositional hearing. Every case is different and there are very limited cases where detention is usually a risk with juveniles.


Although criminal records for juvenile offenses are typically sealed, the effects of going through this system can be profound. Ensuring your child has proper legal representation and support throughout the process is vital to minimize any negative long-term impacts, such as on future educational opportunities or employment.

For Parents of College Students

When college students face criminal charges, the stakes are high, as both their academic and professional futures can be significantly impacted. As a parent, understanding how to navigate these challenges effectively is crucial to supporting your child through this trying time.

Legal and Academic Repercussions

College students not only face the legal ramifications of their charges but must also navigate the consequences within their educational institution. Colleges and universities often have strict conduct policies, and criminal charges can trigger disciplinary actions that may range from probation within the university to suspension or even expulsion. These academic repercussions require a careful and coordinated response alongside the legal defense.

Key Steps for Parents

  • Immediate Legal Consultation: Promptly seek a criminal defense lawyer with extensive experience in cases involving college students. This step is critical to ensure that your child’s legal and academic interests are both considered from the start.
  • Engage with the University: Understand the university’s specific policies on student conduct and disciplinary proceedings. Assist your child in preparing for any meetings or hearings with university officials. In many cases, appeasing the university by completing any rehabilitative programs or education classes can and should be used in negotiations for the criminal case. However, it is imperative to not make any recorded statements with the education that may be able to be used against you in the criminal case.
  • Maintain Documentation: Keep detailed records of all interactions with legal authorities and the university, including dates, times, and the nature of communications. This documentation can be crucial in both legal and academic contexts.
  • Find Support Systems and Resources: Colleges and universities often provide various support systems designed to assist students in crisis. Encouraging your child to engage with these resources can be immensely beneficial. They offer legal and psychological support and help the student manage the stress and emotional turmoil that often accompany legal troubles.

Potential Outcomes for College Students:

  • Academic Probation or Suspension: Depending on the severity of the offense and the university’s policies, your child may face probation or temporary suspension.
  • Expulsion: For more serious offenses, expulsion is a potential risk, which could profoundly impact your child’s educational path and career future.
  • Legal Consequences: Depending on the charges, your child may be facing the potential of mandatory jail time, mandatory fines and/or probation, as well as potentially felony charges. As such, a mistake in college involving campus police or off-campus police can have grave consequences on their record for the rest of their life. Our attorneys routinely work with college students to help avoid a conviction on their record, avoid jailtime, and avoid the long-term effects of the charges.
  • Diversion Programs: Certain crimes are eligible for something called judicial diversion that can allow the case to be dismissed and expunged after the successful completion of probation. While we hope to avoid using a client’s diversion by getting a dismissal without it, a diversion may be an option depending on the strength of the state’s evidence against your child.


Preparing for the potential outcomes involves understanding the implications of each scenario and planning accordingly. This might involve adjusting the student’s course load, exploring options for continuing education during suspension, or planning for a return to school following a period away due to legal issues.

For Parents of Adult Children

Facing charges in the adult criminal justice system is a serious matter. Unlike the juvenile justice system, adult criminal justice focuses more on penalization than rehabilitation. Convictions in adult court can lead to long-term criminal records, significantly affecting future employment, housing, and more. Familiarizing yourself with the process is essential for parents aiming to support their child effectively.

Finding The Right Attorney

One of the most helpful steps you can take is assisting your child in finding a skilled criminal defense attorney. Look for attorneys with experience in the specific charges your child is facing and a strong track record in the local court system. You can aid this process by researching potential lawyers, arranging consultations, reviewing Google reviews, and discussing your child’s case to the extent that you can in order to find the best match.

Key Steps for Parents

  • Stay Informed: Understand the charges and the legal process to provide practical support.
  • Provide Logistical Support: Offer help with logistics such as attending court dates, meeting with lawyers, or handling paperwork, especially if your child is dealing with incarceration.
  • Financial Assistance: Help manage or contribute to the costs associated with legal defense, which may include attorney fees, court costs, and bail.
  • Emotional and Social Support: The stress of facing criminal charges can be overwhelming. Strive to be a consistent source of emotional support during this time, and encourage your child to seek professional help if needed.
  • Effective Communication: While you can offer support and stay updated, remember that direct communications about the case details will occur between your child and their attorney to ensure confidentiality and the integrity of legal strategies.

Potential Outcomes for Adult Children:

  • Dismissal or Acquittal: Ideally, the charges are dismissed, or your child is acquitted. Effective legal representation can increase the likelihood of these outcomes. Our attorneys #1 goal is to get the case dismissed if possible through negotiations or hearings on legal issues.
  • Plea Bargain: Your child’s attorney may negotiate a plea bargain, which could result in reduced charges or a lighter sentence, often pursued to avoid the risks and public exposure of a trial. It may also result in a judicial diversion allowing the charges to be dismissed after probation.
  • Conviction and Sentencing: If convicted, the sentencing will vary based on the severity of the crime and any prior criminal history. Sentences can range from fines and community service to probation or imprisonment.

Preparing for Long-Term Implications

Prepare for all possible outcomes, including how a criminal record might affect your child’s future. If the outcome involves a conviction, discuss with the attorney steps to mitigate its effects, such as pursuing expungement opportunities where applicable. Planning for how a criminal record might affect aspects like employment and housing is also crucial.

Take Action For Your Child's Future Today

If your child is facing criminal charges in East Tennessee, finding an attorney that can fight on their behalf is essential. At Barnes & Fersten, our criminal defense attorneys in Knoxville have a proven track record in both juvenile and adult court. We believe in defending your child’s legal rights in court and advocating for their future. Our legal team has the experience to handle the complexities of any criminal charge your child may face, ensuring that every avenue for defense is thoroughly explored, and your child’s voice is heard.

Don’t let your child face this challenging time alone. Contact Barnes & Fersten today to schedule a free consultation where we can discuss the details of the case and outline a clear & effective defense strategy. Together, we can work towards securing the best possible outcome for your child’s case and their future.

DUI & Criminal Defense Attorney Brandon Fersten

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.