Teenagers in Virginia sometimes make mistakes or fall in with the wrong crowd. They are still developing mentally and do not have the foresight or maturity of a grown adult. For these reasons, except in the case of serious criminal offenses, a juvenile accused of a crime will not always go through the same criminal trial process as an adult.
Juvenile crimes in general are handled by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court unless the juvenile is tried as an adult. When a juvenile is accused of a crime, rather than going through a “trial” before the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, the juvenile will have an “adjudicatory hearing.” The juvenile’s case is decided by a judge, not a jury.
The hearing operates much like a criminal trial, with the juvenile having certain rights. The juvenile has a right to legal representation. The juvenile also has the right to subpoena witnesses to have them give testimony on the juvenile’s behalf. The juvenile has the right to cross-examine witnesses testifying on behalf of the prosecution. And, the juvenile has the right against self-incrimination.
The standard of proof in an adjudicatory hearing is the same as a criminal trial. The prosecution bears the burden of proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If any reasonable doubt remains, the juvenile cannot be found guilty.
Teenagers have their entire lives in front of them, and do not deserve to have their future tarnished because of a youthful indiscretion or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For this reason, depending on the alleged offense, they are tried as juveniles rather than as adults. This way, a teenager has the opportunity to defend him or herself, and to have his or her rights protected during the process.