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Parents of Delinquents Ruled Liable

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California parents may be prosecuted and jailed for failing to supervise and control their delinquent children, the state supreme court has ruled.

Parents who "intentionally or with criminal negligence'' fail to rein in their children and, in effect, contribute to the children's delinquency, violate the law, the justices found in a unanimous decision this month.

The ruling rejected arguments by the American Civil Liberties Union that the law was vague and overbroad. It upheld 1988 amendments to the law prohibiting conduct contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

That measure made clear that parents were among those included in the statute, by saying they "have the duty to exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection, and control over their minor child.''

Under the law, parents may avoid criminal charges if they complete an education, treatment, or rehabilitation program.

"The amendment does not trap the innocent,'' Justice Stanley Mosk wrote for the court.

The court said the law was "specific enough'' and offered parents enough warning to be able to avoid penalty in part because "it imposes criminal liability only when the parent engages in conduct that so grossly departs from the standard of care as to amount to criminal negligence.''

The law was enacted along with other measures co-sponsored by James K. Hahn, the Los Angeles city attorney, and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office as part of a campaign to combat gang recruitment.

Thomas P. Higgins, a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County who argued the case, said he hopes to use the law to help younger delinquent children avoid more trouble.

The threat of a criminal penalty of up to a year in jail could also be used to obtain cooperation from the parents of children truant from school, Mr. Higgins added.

The A.C.L.U. lawyer handling the case could not be reached.--M.L.

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