It may be natural for moms and dads to defend their children and try to lighten the consequences of actions, but the web has been awash in irritation this week after Brock Turner's dad asked a judge not to hold "20 minutes of action" against his son.
Brock Turner is the young man and student athlete recently convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious and intoxicated female at a frat party at Stanford.
The dad, Dan A. Turner, wrote in the much-quoted letter to the judge that the guilty verdicts are a "steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life. The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations. What I know as his father is that incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock. …"
Many are also outraged at the judge who gave Turner what they considered a light sentence — six months in jail and probation.
It's not an isolated case that has raised questions of whether parental or other support of the accused is excessive in the face of serious criminal allegations, according to Forbes contributor Bob Cook. "If you want to get an idea of how rape culture starts well before a college swimmer’s dad writes a note before his kid’s sentencing hearing, check out, if you can stomach it, what’s happening with a fall 2015 sexual assault case involving a Spanish Fort, Alabama, football star, and, yes, an intoxicated and incapacitated victim," Cook wrote. "His defense is being paid for by a local businessman, his mother is being called out by the case’s judge as an enabler, and his fan base has shown support for him at games and has vandalized the victim’s house. And the trial hasn’t even started yet."
Remember Ethan Couch, dubbed the "affluenza" teen? He'd been convicted of driving drunk in 2013 and causing an accident that killed four people and injured others. The judge had ordered 10 years probation and told him to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
He is an example of a parent apparently trying to thwart consequences. In a recap of what happened, CNN reported that his lawyer argued Couch's parents were so rich and had spoiled him so thoroughly that he did not understand consequences; he suffered from affluenza. After he was given what many saw as a lenient sentence, he was caught on tape at a party where alcohol was being consumed and that could have sent him to jail. He and his mom skipped the subsequent hearing and went to Mexico.
When he was caught, the judge gave him jail time, CNN said.
Parental roles are tricky when a child is accused of a crime. The natural instinct to protect a child and try to assure his or her future or soften punishment may butt up against public reaction, as it has in the Turner case. The courts may find a protective parent has gone too far, as happened in the Couch case.
There are many questions, none new. In the case of crimes committed by minors, it's not always just parenting skills that are called into question. Some jurisdictions have argued that parents should be held legally responsible. NPR in 2014 presented one of many such news reports asking whether parents should shoulder some legal responsibility. That would be a moot point in the Turner case, because he was 19 when the sexual assault occurred and the age of legal responsibility in California is 16. That hasn't kept people from lashing out at the senior Turner in response to his letter.
FindLaw explains the concept of parental responsibility, which depending on jurisdiction can be civil or criminal. "Parental liability only applies to your minor or underage children. The age of majority is the age at which a minor, in the eyes of the state law, becomes an adult. This age is 18 in most states. In a few other states, the age of majority is 19 or 21. You may want to check your state's legal age of majority laws."
The National Crime Prevention Council says that "parents held accountable for their children's delinquent behavior are more likely to reinforce appropriate behavior in the youth." The council notes parental accountability is not easy to accomplish, though. And their examples are bad behavior like vandalism and truancy, not rape and drunk driving.
Wrote NPR's Nathan Siegel, "Most states will hold parents liable for their kids in civil court and criminalize the act of 'contributing to the delinquency of a minor,' with which parents can be charged. Criminal charges for bad parenting are less common. The city of Davenport, Iowa, has experimented with holding parents responsible for crimes like breaking curfew and possessing marijuana, but the Iowa Supreme Court struck down parts of the ordinance in 2010."
A study in Journal of Abnormal Psychology nearly a decade ago tried to tease out the "relationship between parenting and delinquency." It said the "strongest links were found for parental monitoring, psychological control, and negative aspects of support such as rejection and hostility, accounting for up to 11 percent of the variance in delinquency." Those are the opposite of a parent appearing to be overly supportive or forgiving of bad behavior.
But child development experts say living with some negative consequences are key if a child is to grow into a responsible adult who thrives. As experts told the Deseret News in a story about what lets kids thrive, the process of youths developing adult autonomy includes facing consequences for their actions.
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