Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor

When an adult encourages a person under the age of 18 to engage in illegal activities, this is legally called contributing to the delinquency of a minor and is considered a crime in the United States that can result in jail time and fines. This could be as simple as keeping a child home from school therefore making the child a truant, or encouraging a child’s involvement in more serious illegal activities. In this article, we look at what contributing to the delinquency of a minor means in the US court of law and the punishments associated with this crime.

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What is Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor?

According to US law, contributing to the delinquency of a minor is where an adult knowingly encourages a minor to partake in prohibited acts of juvenile delinquency. As far as the legal definition goes, a minor is considered to be anyone under the age of eighteen. Any adult that either helps or encourages their delinquent behavior can be charged with this crime, no matter how trivial the act in question. For example, in most states, it is illegal for minors to possess alcohol. Despite being a petty crime, any adult supplying or encouraging the consumption of alcohol among minors could have criminal charges brought against them.

Contributing to the delinquency of a minor was first termed a crime in 1903 in the state of Colorado. However, today all US states have established seminal criminal statutes aimed to prevent and punish adults from encouraging children to partake in illegal behavior. Whereas in some states this criminal charge is regarded as a misdemeanor handled by the state, others view it as a federal offense. As such, the acts encouraged that are deemed criminal and the penalties awarded vary hugely.

What are Examples of Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor?

Since contributing to the delinquency of a minor is legally defined as encouragement of a child’s involvement in any illegal activity, acts that contribute towards this crime are extremely varied. Here are just a few examples, ranging from mild to more severe. Allowing a child to engage in any of these activities could result in criminal sentencing:

  • Keeping a child out of school, making them a habitual truant
  • Allowing a child to consume alcohol and/or illegal drugs
  • Regularly supplying alcohol and/or illegal drugs
  • Allowing minors to beg on the street or be homeless
  • Permitting minors to drive a vehicle without a license
  • Persuading a minor to commit a criminal act
  • Accompanying a minor while they commit a crime
  • Providing a child with a fake ID
  • Sending pornography or obscene material to a minor
  • Allowing for illegal sexual acts to occur with minors

Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor Defined

As stated, contributing to the delinquency of a minor is defined as willingly or knowingly encouraging or helping a delinquent child in carrying out a prohibited act or crime. However, as per the legal definition of the crime, in most US states the following must be true if a person was to be convicted:

  1. The accused is an adult (over 18 years of age) that encourages the minor to commit the offense.
  2. The accused adult must know that the minor is under the age of eighteen.
  3. The minor’s behavior was either a result of general criminal intent or criminal negligence.
  4. The accused must contribute to the minor becoming a delinquent, a habitual truant, or a dependent child of the juvenile court.

The laws governing contributing to the delinquency of a minor vary between states. Some specifically state that only parents, legal guardians, or other adults that have care of custody can be charged. On the other hand, some states will charge any adult that has been involved. It is important to note that the act of delinquency must not be committed for an adult to be charged; simply showing intent to cause delinquency can stand in the court of law.

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Being Charged with Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor

Anyone charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor in the US will face criminal punishment. In many US states, it is charged as a misdemeanor. This is especially true for first-time offenders or for activities that are deemed less severe, such as supplying alcohol to minors or keeping a child home from school without purpose. Conversely, a second offense will often be charged as a felony. In situations where the accused encourages or helps a child to commit a serious crime such as burglary, this will also be considered a felony offense and carries more severe punishment.

Although true for most US states, the charges applied depend on the statutes for each state in question. For example, Tennessee deems contributing to the delinquency of a minor as a misdemeanor with progressively worse punishments for second offenders and more severe illegal activity as stated above. The same is true for Florida, Louisiana, and California. However, Colorado views all cases as a class four felony offense with more severe implications, as per Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-6-701.

Penalty for Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor

The punishment for contributing to the delinquency of a minor depends on the charges given, with those charged with misdemeanors carrying less severe penalties than felony offenses. Moreover, the precise specifics of the case, the prohibited act carried out, and the frequency of the activity will ultimately impact the penalties handed out. These factors will be considered when a judge is deciding on appropriate sentencing.

There are different sentencing guidelines for each of the jurisdictions in the US. In addition to the specifics of the case, this too drastically impacts the penalties awarded. Some examples include:

  • California: Charged as a misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $2,500 and a maximum of one year in jail.
  • Florida: Charged as a misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and a maximum of one year in county jail.
  • Colorado: Charged as a class four felony punishable by fines of up to $500,000 and a prison sentence of two to six years.
  • Ohio: Charged as a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in county jail and a maximum of $1,000 in fines.


Encouraging or aiding a minor to partake in a prohibited act or delinquent activity is recognized as a crime in all US states. Despite the accused adult not partaking in crime themselves, contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a serious criminal offense by US law enforcement. Anyone charged with the crime should contact a law firm for legal advice so an attorney can create strong legal defenses to help reduce the penalties awarded to the offender.

Article by Megan Thompson

Megan Thompson is a legal writer at Lawrina. Megan writes about different law practice areas, legal innovations, and shares her knowledge about her legal practice. As a graduate of the American University's Washington College of Law she is an expert of law in Lawrina's team and has a slight editing touch to all content that is published on the website.

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