What Are the Steps of the Juvenile Justice Process in Virginia?

Child under arrest

When someone under the age of 18 commits a crime in Virginia they are considered a juvenile unless a judge determines otherwise in specific situations. Juveniles, whose crimes are instead referred to as offenses, are adjudicated in a separate justice system from adults. 

The juvenile justice system has its own set of laws and procedures with a focus on rehabilitation rather than simply punishment.  This is because children who commit crimes (“delinquents”) are considered to have a differently level of responsibility from adults; their brains are not yet fully developed. Here are the steps in the Virginia juvenile justice process. 

Enter the System

When a juvenile commits an offense, which is reported by a parent, a law enforcement officer, or another member of society, they will enter the system. If the juvenile’s offense is minor, such as a traffic violation, the law enforcement officer may decide to issue a court summons rather than taking the juvenile through the intake process. If the officer does the latter, he or she is permitted to either take informal action or formal action by filing a petition. 

Informal Action 

If the officer decides to take an informal action during the intake process, he or she may make a referral for counseling, a crisis center, an educational program, or another establishment intended to provide another route of diversion from the juvenile justice system. Sometimes the juvenile’s parents are also ordered to attend a program. 

Formal Action 

If the officer decides to take a formal action during the intake process, he or she will file a petition and determine whether the juvenile should be released to his or her parents/guardians or detained. This is based on whether the juvenile poses a risk to themselves or their community. It also takes into account whether the juvenile is a flight risk (will run away).

Detention Hearing

If the police officer decides to detain the juvenile, there will be a detention hearing held within 72 hours in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court to decide if the juvenile should be detained for longer. 

Adjudicatory Hearing

The adjudicatory hearing occurs for juveniles who have gone through the intake process. During this hearing, evidence and testimony is provided to determine whether the juvenile is guilty of the offense with which they have been charged. If they are found not guilty, the case is dismissed. If they are found guilty, they will be subject to a dispositional hearing. Prior to the dispositional hearing, a judge may order a pre-disposition report, which is made to help with determining the appropriate disposition (penalty). This report includes comprehensive information about the juvenile, such as their school record, family environment, community, and potential services needed. 

Dispositional Hearing

During the dispositional hearing, a judge will determine the appropriate penalty for the juvenile. This may be a community sanction (e.g., a warning, fine, or restitution). The juvenile may also be placed on probation, in post-dispositional detention, or required to participate in court-sponsored or community programs. After the juvenile meets the court’s requirements, he or she will be released. However, a judge may choose to commit the juvenile to the Department of Juvenile Justice. When this occurs the juvenile may be subjected to social, educational, medical, and psychological evaluations and placed within a juvenile correctional facility. After completion of their time in the facility, the juvenile will return to his or her community and usually receive court supervision. 

Appellate Process

After the dispositional hearing, the juvenile’s family may choose to appeal the decision. 

A case may be sent into the appeals process following the dispositional hearing. When this occurs, a higher court must decide if the juvenile court was, in fact, correct. 

When your child is facing serious consequences, it’s important that you do all you can to properly defend them and their rights. 

Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC Can Help Those in VA to Defend Against Criminal Offenses

If your child has been charged with a criminal offense, your best chance of defending them is with a knowledgeable and experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney. At Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC, we have experience with criminal defense and issues surrounding juveniles. We will help you to fight for what it is that you deserve. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!

Posted in: Criminal Law