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What rights do Virginia juveniles have when accused of a crime?

It is understood that teenagers do not have the same maturity or ability to reason that adults have and, therefore, may make poor decisions. Other teenagers may simply be at the wrong place at the wrong time when a crime is allegedly committed. Still other teenagers, simply because they are teenagers, may be accused of being troublemakers. With all this in mind, when it comes to the prosecution of juvenile crimes, it is not always fair to put a teenager through the same court process as an adult.

The Commonwealth of Virginia recognizes this and has a separate Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. This court presides over cases in which a juvenile is accused of committing some sort of delinquent (criminal) offense, traffic offense or status offense. This court also provides juveniles with a certain amount of privacy and confidentiality, the possibility of rehabilitation and will not subject them to a jury trial.

The trial process in a Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court is known as an “adjudicatory hearing.” In this hearing, the judge will examine the facts in the petition to verify their accuracy. If needed, the juvenile’s case will be postponed so that each side has the time to secure an attorney or complete any other task necessary to ensure the hearing is fair.

At an adjudicatory hearing, the juvenile has the right to an attorney’s representation to the extent possible per law. The juvenile also has the right to have witnesses testify on their behalf and can subpoena witnesses to appear before the court. In addition, the juvenile has the right to confront and question witnesses who provide testimony against the juvenile. Juveniles also have the right not to incriminate themselves.

In an adjudicatory hearing, it is the prosecution’s duty to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If a juvenile is found guilty, sentencing will take place another day, so the judge can collect all the information about the juvenile’s history that is necessary to make an appropriate decision. However, in traffic cases, sentencing usually takes place right after the adjudicatory hearing.

Teenagers in Virginia, just like adults, deserve to have their rights upheld if they are accused of committing a crime. By establishing a Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, adjudicatory hearings can be held and conclusions can be met that are fair and appropriate considering the age of the juvenile.

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