Q&A: Guidance for young adult daughter with minor offenses, but failure to complete community service

March 13, 2014 in Justice, Q&A by Kyle Dopfel

QADear ADHD Justice Support Center,

I am contacting you in regards to my 19 year old daughter was caught shoplifting.  It was her first time ever in any kind of trouble.  We did not know what we were doing.  I could not afford a lawyer and neither could she.  She was charged $1000 bail, which my oldest son borrowed from five of his friends and my daughter is still paying back.

She faced the judge without a lawyer.  She did not make a connection with that judge, he was harsh on her. He sentenced her to 12 Shoplifting Classes ($400 came out of the bail + an additional $240 to my daughter).  Additionally, she was sentenced to eight hours of road crew and 60 hours of community service.   Neither she nor I understood that some of the bond could have  been used to pay for a lawyer.  Stupidly, I did not think a first time offense would be so severe and expensive.  The judge applied all of the bail to various costs and fines.

She completed the classes and her road crew.  However, she did not complete the community service in time.  [My daughter] is not good with time management, meeting deadlines, being on time; she has ADD and it very negatively impacts her life.  She put it off toward the end and still thought she had a week left when they told her it was going back before the judge.

We are afraid to face this judge without a lawyer.   [My daughter] does not have the ability to advocate for her or the confidence to say anything to the judge that may be of help.  She understands that she was wrong to shoplift and in her failure to complete the community service on time.  I do not want her to go to jail because she failed to manage her time properly or because she shoplifted one time in her life.  We are living paycheck to paycheck now; more fines will be a burden for us.

I also struggle with the ADD so I have dropped the ball on helping her make deadlines.  Morgan’s ADD is really causing her problems now that she is out of school.  She misses doctor appointments even with reminders.  Prior to the shoplifting she had a couple speeding tickets.  I thought she had until the end of August to complete the driver’s class online.  She got in an accident on August 22 and almost on the same day; her license was suspended for not completing the class on time.  We didn’t respond in time to the ticket, which increased the fines.  The shoplifting occurred prior to the accident so I was afraid for her to plead guilty without a lawyer.  The judge said she didn’t qualify for one.  Then on the rescheduled court date, she forgot about it and overslept at a friend’s house.  It was a nightmare.  Then she was charged with contempt.

She is a good kid.  She does not do drugs.  In high school, when she a junior her big brother was diagnosed with Leukemia and the same time I was laid off.  His first transplant failed; it was a very difficult journey for us all.  Morgan helped out a lot with her little brother during that time.  She helped keep us afloat with money from her part-time job, which she still does.  She tried community college in the fall this year, but was immediately overwhelmed.  Of course, she didn’t quit in time or follow through with the financial aid properly so we are on the hook for the first semester’s tuition.

Any assistance you can offer is so appreciated.  [My daughter] is not a kid who belongs in the criminal justice system.  I am so worried for her.  We need help.



Dear RK,

Thank you for reaching out to us. I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s difficulties. Unfortunately, what she is currently going through is not entirely uncommon for those with ADHD. Here are a few ideas to start with:

  • It would help to find your daughter a local advocate to at least write a letter to the judge, discussing her limitations/need for accommodations on completing her assignment. This advocate could possibly be the professional who diagnosed her ADHD, a mentor from her previous high school, or someone from your local CHADD chapter.
  • Additionally, a letter of support from the community service program could go a long way. For example, something expressing that she completed parts of her community service, was a hard worker, had a good attitude…
  • Information in regard to a public advocate she may obtain from the public defender’s office is usually listed in the local phone book or the disability law program, which should be available in each state.
  • We also recommend that you may want to put together some information on ADHD in the criminal justice system to share with the judge. We can help by sending you some of our materials electronically or mail you hard copies, if you prefer. You can also find a good deal of information online at our ADHD Justice Support Center, which we are working to build into a comprehensive resource on this issue.

We also shared your situation with one of our experts, a defense attorney who specializes in advocating for juveniles with ADHD. He has a great deal of knowledge and experience in this area, and can offer you some valuable guidance moving forward. His initial response is included below:

I would be happy to be a resource for this woman and her daughter. I am not familiar with the specific laws in her location, but $1,000 does seem high for a first time offender misdemeanor bail, as does the amount of community service, costs and fines that she has had to pay. While she may not have completed her community service timely, she is either complete now, or substantially completed. At all costs, she needs to be represented by someone. That is crucial. In my opinion, the best way to handle something like this is to have an advocate, attorney, or even her clinician, draft a letter describing that it is not a willful failure to comply, but both the crime (impulsivity) and the difficulty in timely completion of her service (executive functioning impairment) are consistent with her diagnosis. The letter should also describe what the symptoms of ADHD are and how they impact defendants in her case. It would also be helpful if she has timing accommodations in her school.

I would also stress that this explanation, in no way is to seek a waiver of the punishment, but a consideration to extend her time and to help the judge understand that it is not a voluntary disregard for the sentence.

There has to be some type of court appointed counsel program (legal aide society, or court appointed private attorneys for indigent defendants). That needs to be investigated.

I would also recommend that she go to the COPAA website and see what resources, advocates and/or attorneys are available in her jurisdiction. She could also contact the State Department of Education. Each school is required to give parents a “Procedural Safeguards Notice” telling them about low cost or free advocacy services in their area, if they are having difficulty with the school district. Many times there are state funded advocacy agencies that may be able to lend a hand.

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, should she let her daughter face the judge alone without counsel. I also think it is highly advisable to have someone head off the situation, by requesting an extension of time, in writing, in advance. The last thing she wants is for the judge to think she is trying to get away with something. Transparency here could make a huge difference.

I hope this is helpful. If she has further questions, please feel free to have her contact me.

Do you have a question for us? If you need guidance on navigating the challenges of ADHD in the criminal justice system, reach out to us at ADHDJustice@add.org. We will do our best to provide you with the support you need and connect you to the experts that can help!

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