Anyone who breaks the law can face legal consequences—even children. Defendants who are under the age of 18 are not given a free pass simply because of their age, however they are treated differently than adult defendants. If your child has been charged with a juvenile crime, a Virginia criminal justice attorney can help you protect your child’s future. But first, it’s important to understand how the juvenile justice system differs from the adult justice system.

What is the Juvenile Justice System in Virginia?

The juvenile justice system is part of the criminal justice system in Virginia that was established to handle cases involving defendants under the age of 18. This system has its own rules, regulations, and procedures that are different from those used in the adult criminal justice system. 

The main purpose of the adult criminal justice system is to impose penalties on defendants who are convicted of committing crimes. But, the juvenile justice system takes a more rehabilitative approach with minor defendants. The goal is to get these minors back on track so they can learn from their mistakes and go on to live a productive, crime-free life.

Do Juveniles Have the Same Legal Rights As Adults?

Juveniles who have been accused of committing a crime have the same legal rights as accused adults. This includes:

  • The right to remain silent.
  • The right to an attorney.
  • The right to attend all court hearings related to your case.
  • The right to call witnesses.
  • The right to receive a written notice that outlines the charges filed against you.
  • The right to a public hearing in certain cases.
  • The right to appeal the court’s decision.

It is important to aggressively protect these rights to ensure your child is treated fairly in the juvenile justice system. 

How Are Criminal Cases Against Minors Initiated?

A juvenile criminal case is initiated in one of three ways. Like adults, minors can be arrested if law enforcement officers suspect that they have committed certain crimes. This is how many juvenile cases are initiated. 

A juvenile criminal case can also be initiated by a petition filed by a third party referred to as a complainant. This occurs in cases where there is a complainant who wants to make the authorities aware of a juvenile’s criminal activity. For example, if a minor assaults someone, the victim may file a petition to begin proceedings in the juvenile court.  Most often, however, a law enforcement officer is the one who obtains petitions against a juvenile alleged to have committed a crime.

Finally, minors may receive a written summons that outlines the charges filed against them. The summons will include information on your first court hearing. You must show up to this court hearing or the judge could issue a warrant for your arrest.

What Happens After A Minor is Taken Into Custody in Virginia?

The steps involved in the juvenile criminal justice system are very different from those involved in the adult criminal justice system. The steps in the juvenile system include:

  • Intake meeting
  • Detention hearing
  • Delinquency adjudication hearing
  • Dispositional hearing

The first step in the process is the intake meeting. During this meeting, an intake officer will review your case to determine whether or not it is appropriate to file charges and take you to court. The intake officer does not decide if you are guilty or not, he simply decides whether there are alternative informal services in certain circumstances if the allegation does not involve a violent felony. 

If there is probable cause, the next step in your case is the detention hearing. During this hearing, a juvenile court judge will review your case to determine if it is necessary to keep you in a juvenile detention facility until your trial. This is similar to a bail hearing in the adult criminal justice system. Minors are typically only held in detention if the judge believes it would be too dangerous to release them back into the community. If this is not a concern, the judge will allow you to go home until your next hearing. 

The delinquency adjudication hearing is the juvenile justice system’s version of an adult criminal trial. Similar to an adult trial, both sides are given the opportunity to present evidence in a delinquency adjudication hearing. Unlike an adult trial, this hearing does not take place in front of a jury. The judge presiding over the case gets to decide whether or not the juvenile defendant is guilty.

If you are found not guilty, the charges against you are dismissed and the case is over. If you are found guilty, the next step in your case is the dispositional hearing, which is similar to a sentencing hearing for adults.  

Judges can impose a wide variety of penalties on juveniles who are found guilty of committing crimes, including probation, restitution, fines, community service, and drug or alcohol treatment. The judge can also order you to spend time in a juvenile detention facility, which is similar to a jail. The case is closed after the dispositional hearing is over unless you choose to appeal the court’s decision.

How Will Your Juvenile Crime Record Affect Your Future?

An adult can carry a criminal conviction around for decades after the crime occurred, but the same rules do not apply for minors. Juvenile criminal records are generally not publicly available unless the minor was 14 year of age and older and the allegation involves what would be a felony of committed by an adult.  Virginai law requires the Clerk to review its records every year and destroy all all those records for any juvenile who has  attained the age of 19 years and five years have elapsed since the date of the last hearing in any case, except for any felony and certain traffic offenses until the juvenile reaches the age of 29.  If it is destroyed, the crime will no longer appear on the minor’s record. 

The rules are different in cases where the minor commits a crime that would be classified as a felony if the defendant was an adult. In these cases, the records are not automatically destroyed. These criminal convictions will remain public due to their severity. 

Having a conviction on your record—even if it took place while you were a minor—can have a negative impact on your life. A conviction could affect your ability to enroll in college, serve in the military, or find employment. The only way to avoid these consequences is to aggressively fight the charges. 

Seek Legal Representation From A Virginia Criminal Justice Attorney

If you or your child has been accused of committing a juvenile crime, it’s in your family’s best interest to seek legal representation from attorney Seth C. Weston. To discuss your case, contact the Law Office of Seth C. Weston by calling 540-342-5608 or filling out the form on this website.