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Juvenile justice under Virginia law

On Behalf of | Feb 23, 2023 | Juvenile Crimes

Virginia law has a separate justice system designed to deal with offenders under age 18. There are various reasons for this, but the main policy idea behind the separation is the belief that children are simply different from adults. Virginia believes children don’t necessarily have the same ability to make judgments as adults, and may have a greater capacity to turn their lives around than adults do.

In this blog post, we will discuss some of the key features that make juvenile justice unique.

Who is considered a juvenile?

A juvenile is anyone under 18 years old.

There are some cases in which a court may formally declare a juvenile to be emancipated, which gives them some of the legal rights of an adult. There are also some rare cases in which a juvenile may be tried for a crime as an adult.

Department of Juvenile Justice

Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) oversees matters involving juvenile offenders. In some ways, the DJJ operates as a parallel to the larger criminal justice system, with its own courts, law enforcement officers and detention facilities. But in other ways it is quite different.

The DJJ even uses different terminology. For instance, instead of using the word “crime,” the DJJ uses the word “offense.” Instead of “trials,” the DJJ holds “adjudicatory hearings.” Instead of finding a defendant “guilty,” the DJJ uses the term “found delinquent.”

It’s also important to note that the DJJ assigns an intake officer to oversee allegations against a juvenile. The intake officer can recommend alternate actions instead of sending a juvenile for prosecution. For instance, an intake officer can send a juvenile to counseling or a shelter, rather than taking them into custody and sending them to an adjudicatory hearing. Intake officers are most likely to do this for first-time offenders.

In some cases, the intake officer may instead decide to pursue formal action, in which case they will file a petition. They may then decide whether to detain the juvenile or release them to their guardians.

If the juvenile goes into detention, the DJJ holds another hearing within 72 to decide whether further detention is necessary.

Adjudicatory and dispositional hearings

The next step in the process is the adjudicatory hearing. This is similar to a trial in that the parties can present evidence and the court renders the verdict. If a judge determines the juvenile is guilty, the court will next hold a dispositional hearing.

This dispositional hearing is designed to help the court decide the appropriate sanction for a juvenile found delinquent. Sanctions can be a warning, community service, restitution, probation or further detention.

Compared to the adult criminal justice system, the DJJ offers much greater flexibility and chances for the accused to escape the harshest penalties. However, the consequences of ending up in the juvenile justice system can be disastrous for the accused and their families. Attorneys help families understand their legal options.