In this second installment, we’ll take a closer look at juvenile crimes in Virginia.
As a preliminary matter, the juvenile justice system has its own terminology, perhaps reflecting the rationale of rehabilitation. Indeed, lawmakers do not want a youthful indiscretion for a minor infraction to result in a permanent criminal record. For that reason, a juvenile crime is referred to as an offense, an arrest is termed being taken into custody, a trial is an adjudicatory hearing, a guilty conviction is being found delinquent, and jail is referred to as detention.
It is also important to understand that not every juvenile offense may result in formal action. There are two intake paths:
(1) Informal action, where a minor might be referred to counseling or educational programs without the filing of a petition. This is more common for minor offenses and first-time offenders; and
(2) Formal action, where a petition will be filed and queued for an adjudicatory hearing. The court will determine whether the juvenile must be detained or can be released to his or her guardians or parents. If the court perceives a flight risk and orders detention, a hearing will be held within 72 hours.
Next comes the adjudicatory hearing, which functions similar to a bench trial, where there is no jury. Each party may present witnesses and other evidence to the court. If the court finds the juvenile delinquent, a dispositional hearing will be scheduled. At that hearing, the court will hear background information about the juvenile, including his home, school and community environment, in order to recommend the appropriate disposition.
In some cases, a juvenile offense will be sent to adult court. Under Virginia law, this is a possibility where a juvenile allegedly committed a felony and is at least 14 years of age. This determination will be made at the preliminary hearing, and the prosecutor typically must notify the juvenile and his or her attorney of the intention to try the juvenile as an adult. Needless to say, an experienced juvenile crimes lawyer will work hard to get the best outcome, often via negotiations with the prosecutor.
Source: “Introduction to Juvenile Justice in Virginia,” copyright 2017, Virginia Office of the Attorney General