11/20/2012 01:21 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2013

How Innocent People Get Into Legal Trouble: It's Easier Than You Think

There is always a quality to the ring of the telephone that spells trouble in the middle of the night. Deep sleep is interrupted by the sound of a young voice with the words of a frightened teenager or young adult telling their mom or dad "I'm in trouble." Or it may be the professional voice of a police officer asking for the parent of a certain such young person that sends shivers down the parental spine.It happens all too often and the moment of response stretches interminably until, the news comes out that a nightmarish event has taken place.

Always hoping that lessons imparted in past years will be the predominant thoughts in youthful minds, parents learn all too quickly that they are not in constant operation. Summers at the seashore or departures to college often provide the locale for the anguished unexpected. The over trusting youngster has been invited to a party. Many of their contemporaries are in attendance. The folks that invite them seem harmless enough, but quite frequently, while present, they learn that they may have fallen into a very common trap. It may take the form of loud knocks on the door and the entry of police onto the premises. Sometimes a search ensues, and illegal drugs are found, or underage drinking is the order of the night.

Unless and until the actual owner of the substances own up to that fact, the authorities can and will take the entire entourage to local headquarters and institute charges which will have to be dealt with in court. Maybe everything will turn out all right, after the expense of lawyers, hearings, and the petition to expunge the arrest record, but the trauma, the embarrassment, and sometimes further unexpected consequences may emerge.

One of the biggest mistakes that adds to the complications is the fear of revealing the event to parents. Pretending it will go away is the biggest mistake the new entrant into the criminal justice system can make. Failing to appear in court can result in an arrest warrant, and further complications. Imagine a traffic stop in another state and failing to respond as required resulting in a fugitive charge. One young lady arrested in a popular resort area was permitted to call her mother -- but she called someone else and pretended it was her mother. The police saw through that ruse in an instant. There was an additional charge of hindering a police investigation and her placement in the county jail instead of being allowed to go home. It took several days for her release.

One of the dangers that the unsuspecting offender faces, is that their career hopes and aspirations can be dashed. If the matter is not handled properly, or they are too quick to "get it over with" and enter a hasty guilty plea, their future in the professions can be forever tainted and their professional license if they hold one, can be revoked. Or they may subject themselves to a more severe penalty later as a repeat offender which may carry mandatory jail time. Sometimes trying to be noble and "take the heat" for a friend or family member will prove catastrophic if a future-like incident occurs.

The "sacrificial lamb" may subject himself, or herself, to a promotion of sorts to higher caliber criminal penalties. If that noble person happens to commit another offense, the first one is a conviction, and that may mean a second offense charge with mandatory penalties, including incarceration. The noble gesture in the first carries a higher-than-ever-imagined price tag. Quite often, careers that seem unreachable or unwanted become a chosen path, one that now has unforeseen pitfalls. Youthful acts, especially those that result in convictions, often haunt the new found career path.

How about the more common and seemingly more innocent act of ignoring a traffic ticket (or tickets) because we hope it (they) will go away, but for some reason, doesn't (don't!) The ticket, if not responded to, can result in a loss of license in the state where it occurs. And no, it does not matter if it is a state other than your own. There is a national driver's license directory, and it will be picked up by other states and prevent you from renewing your license in your own state or any state to which you move. And the effected driver should not be in a hurry to pay the ticket "to get it over with." The ticket may carry points which are transferable to your state, or a suspension A lawyer in the state where it occurred should be consulted. Maybe the gravity of the offense can be lessened, and a payment plan possible worked out or any fines that might be incurred. Insurance rates can be affected and if you are in an accident without a valid license, there can be enhanced penalties. In other words, don't ignore it. If you are a parent, some helpful suggestions come from Detective Mike Paul of Towamencin Police Department, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania:

Have that talk with your children before the consequences are relevant. Reinforce that all actions and decisions have results, positive and negative, some dire. A good parent path is to constantly speak to your children, have that conversation as awkward as it may seem at that time. Share personal experiences, all children crave this exchange with their parents, even if they appear not to be listening. Children, even after age eighteen, require parental wisdom. Some savvy parents enlist other wise peers that deliver strong messages for the quick fixes and long-term guidance.

The above are just a few examples of how someone can sink into a quagmire of unintended consequences. Don't be afraid to call a lawyer. Many times, you will prevent the things you are most afraid of, namely higher costs and massive inconvenience, to say the least. Let your children know that they are better off risking your ire than what might take its place. If you are one of the children, the same maxim applies.

Trust me! The alternative is not worth it!