Written by attorney James Donald Garrett

Virginia's Juvenile Justice System: What Happens When a Juvenile is Arrested?

In Virginia, juveniles charged with an offense are treated differently than adults in the criminal justice system. Juveniles, defined as those under the age of 18, are seen as less culpable for their offenses and there is a greater emphasis on rehabilitation, rather than punishment. But the Virginia Juvenile Justice System can be an intimidating and confusing process, and the possible punishments that juveniles face are serious. If you or your child is charged with a juvenile offense, it is critical to understand how Virginia’s Juvenile Justice System works, the possible consequences as juvenile, and how a lawyer can help.

Juvenile Arrests in Virginia

There are several different steps in Virginia’s Juvenile Justice System, but the most significant are the initial intake, the detention hearing, the adjudicatory hearing, and the disposition hearing. (For a flowchart of the entire process, see the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice website). During this process, an attorney can provide valuable legal advice that may help reduce or avoid punishment.

The first step in the Juvenile Justice System is the initial intake during which a juvenile court intake officer will review the information surrounding the offense. If the intake officer decides that formal action is necessary and files a petition, the intake officer must then decide whether to detain the juvenile or release the juvenile to his or her family. In making this decision, the officer will consider whether the juvenile poses a risk to him or herself, or others, and whether the juvenile is a flight risk. If the juvenile is detained, a magistrate will hold a detention hearing within 72 hours to determine whether to continue detaining the juvenile, and to examine the charges.

The adjudicatory hearing is equivalent to a trial. At the adjudicatory hearing, a judge will determine whether the juvenile is guilty of the charged offense. Each party will have an opportunity to present witnesses and testimony to support their arguments. If the juvenile is found not guilty, the case is dismissed. If the juvenile is found guilty, there will be a disposition hearing where a judge will impose sentencing.

What Types of Punishments Do Juveniles Face?

In Virginia courts, judges determine the sanctions and services to impose on a juvenile based on the juvenile’s crime and personal history. In addition to punishment, judges often impose rehabilitation requirements such as educational programs and counseling. Many of these measures are designed to address the underlying causes that contributed to the offense, as well as deter future offenses. During this phase, the judge can choose from a wide variety of punishments and restrictions, including:

  • Probation, during which the offender must abide by certain conditions and a failure to do so can result in more serious punishments
  • Community service
  • Restitution, i.e. repayment to the victim for any damage or theft
  • Placement in the custody of the DJJ to attend a boot camp
  • Placement in a local detention home
  • Confinement to a juvenile correctional
  • Revocation of driver’s license

It is important to remember that the mere fact that the offender is under the age of 18 does not guarantee that he or she will be treated as a juvenile. The Virginia Code allows juveniles to be tried as an adult if they are 14 years of age at the time of the offense and the offense with which they are charged constitutes a felony. Felonies are serious offenses such as murder, rape, and carjacking. However, in these situations, the juvenile will be notified in advance whether the State of Virginia will seek to proceed against them as an adult.

If you or a loved one is charged with a crime, it is imperative that you seek legal advice. A juvenile defense attorney can help you navigate this process and seek the best possible outcome for you or your child.

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