Crimes Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor

contributing to the delinquency of a minor

When an adult encourages a person under 18 to engage in illegal activities, it is legally known as contributing to the delinquency of a minor and considered a felony in the United States which can result in imprisonment and fines. It could be as simple as keeping a child home from school, thereby making them truant, or encouraging the child to engage in more serious illegal activities.   

What contributes to juvenile delinquency?

Under US law, contributing to the delinquency of a minor is when an adult knowingly encourages minors to engage in prohibited acts of juvenile delinquency. In terms of legal definition, a minor is a person under eighteen. 

Any adult who either aids or abets their delinquent behavior can be charged with this offense, no matter how trivial the act is. 

For example, in most states, possessing alcohol for minors is illegal. Despite being a minor offense, any adult who supplies or encourages the consumption of alcohol by minors can get charged with a felony.

Contributing to the delinquency of a minor was first made a crime in 1903 in the state of Colorado. Today, all US states have enacted substantive criminal laws to prevent and punish adults who encourage children to engage in illegal behavior. 
While some states treat this criminal charge as a state misdemeanor, others treat it as a federal crime. However, the acts are considered illegal, and the punishments differ.

What are some examples of contributing to juvenile delinquency?

Here are a few examples, ranging from mild to severe. So, allowing or provoking a child to engage in any of these activities may result in a criminal conviction:

  • Keeping the child out of school makes him a habitual truant
  • Permitting the child to use drugs or alcohol
  • Regular use of alcohol or drugs
  • Allowing minors to beg on the streets or be homeless
  • Allowing minors to drive a vehicle without a driver’s license
  • Persuading a minor to commit a crime
  • Accompanying minors during the commission of a crime
  • Providing a false ID to a child
  • Spending pornography or obscene material on minors
  • Permitting illicit sexual acts with minors

Elements of crime

In every state, it is a crime for adults to assist minors in delinquency. They vary but are generally similar in scope. For example, most states will charge with a misdemeanor if you offer or provoke to buy a case of beer for a teen or host a keg party for your teenage son and his friends. However, some states treat the offense as a felony in some cases.

CDM (Contributing to the delinquency of a minor) elements generally include:

  • An adult (or other minors in some states) committed an act or failure to fulfill a duty (sometimes regardless of intent).
  • This act or omission caused (or tends to cause) the minor to become or remain:

Most laws use terms such as “propensity to cause delinquency.” It means that a minor must not commit a crime for an adult to get charged with it. For example, your 14-year-old neighbor doesn’t need to own the case of beer you bought for him to get charged with CDM.

CDM (Contributing to the delinquency of a minor) laws vary from state to state

Some laws explicitly state that only “parents, legal guardians, and others who have custody of a child” can get charged with CDM. But these jurisdictions also typically prosecute others, such as associates or strangers, for contributing to the juvenile’s delinquency. Additionally, “contributing” is defined very broadly in most statutes, leaving it open to a judge or jury’s interpretation.

Different jurisdictions disagree on whether the conduct must give rise to the crime and whether mens rea (“guilty mind”) is necessary for a guilty verdict.

Some states require intent to commit the act in question, regardless of whether the defendant knew the minor’s original age. However, others allow an affirmative defense based on a lack of mens rea, such as ignorance of the minor’s age and thus lack of intent to commit the crime.

Contributing to the delinquency of minors: Exceptions

It is not always and necessarily a crime to provide alcohol to minors in at least 40 states. But these exceptions are narrowly defined. The following exceptions may be valid defenses to CDM charges:

  • Private spaces with parental consent: For instance, serving a glass of wine to your teenage child with dinner (29 states, incorporating New York and Texas).
  • Private premises without parental consent: For instance, a minor helping himself to a can of beer at home alone (six states, including Louisiana and New Jersey).
  • Religious reasons: The most common example is taking a sip of wine in church for ceremonial purposes (25 states, including Colorado and Illinois).
  • Medicinal uses: Tinctures and other medications may contain alcohol (16 states, incorporating Arizona and Washington).
  • Government-related work: It may include participation in government research or undercover work (four states, incorporating Michigan and Oregon).
  • Educational purposes: For instance, adding wine to a sauce when visiting a culinary school (seven states, including North Carolina and Vermont).
  • Premises where alcohol is allowed by parental consent: For instance, a teenager drinks with his parents at a restaurant (11 states, incorporating Massachusetts and Nevada).

Charges on contribution to the delinquency of a minor

Anyone charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor (CDM) in the US will face criminal penalties (many states in the US charge it with a misdemeanor). It is especially true for first-time offenders or less grave activities, such as supplying minors with alcohol or keeping a child home from school inappropriately.

Contrarily, the second offense will get charged as a felony. In situations where the accused encourages or assists a child to commit a grave crime such as burglary, it will be considered an offense and often results in more severe punishment.

What are some of the defense mechanisms of CDM?

For the court to convict you, the prosecution must prove to you:

  • Knew you were assisting a minor to commit a delinquent act; or
  • Somehow got the kid to commit the crime.

There are many approaches to defending your case. For example, you didn’t know your son and his friends were drinking alcohol from your liquor store in your basement.

If your actions did not lead to the juvenile’s delinquency, you could use lack of causation as a defense.


Encouraging or assisting a minor in prohibited conduct or delinquent activity is a felony in all US states. Even though the accused adult is not involved in the criminal activity himself, participation in the delinquency of a minor is a serious act of crime by US law enforcement agencies. Anyone charged with a crime should contact a law firm for legal advice so that an attorney can build a legal defense that will help reduce the sentences given to the offender.


How does the CDM fee affect me?

The conviction can interfere with your future employment, social life, and volunteer opportunities. It can hurt your chances of becoming a foster parent, working in a school, volunteering at orphanages, etc.

What is the best defense against CDM charging?

An effective defense is for the defendant to prove that he did not know the person was a minor, could not reasonably control a child, and was accused falsely.

Can a person get a CDM conviction overturned?

A person convicted of this crime can get sentenced to death, and an expungement requires the defendant to complete their time in jail or probation.

Is consensual intercourse with a minor also CDM?

Consensual intercourse means that there is an agreement to engage in sexual activity. Even though there is a consensual agreement between you and the minor, it is a misdemeanor because it involves a minor. It is considered child abuse.

What are some factors that contribute to juvenile delinquency?

Factors contributing to juvenile delinquency include poor school attendance, peer pressure, domestic violence, low educational standards, lack of moral guidance, substance abuse, and other socioeconomic factors.