If someone commits a crime in Northern Virginia, he or she will be tried in criminal court—that is, unless he or she is considered a juvenile. A juvenile in Virginia is anyone younger than 18 years old.
When a juvenile commits a criminal offense, a petition is issued and a hearing will be set. If the evidence establishes guilt and a juvenile is convicted it means the juvenile has been adjudicated delinquent; it does not mean the juvenile has been convicted of a criminal offense. A juvenile court case typically has two phases: adjudication (where there is a trial or a plea negotiated and evidence is sufficient for guilt) and disposition (where a juvenile is officially sentenced on the offense.) Sometimes these two phases are combined and heard on the same day but this depends on the circumstances surrounding each case.
Juvenile courts consider three types of cases:
- Juvenile delinquency cases involve actions that would be considered criminal if an adult had committed them.
- Status offenses are actions that are against the law only because a minor commits them, such as possession of alcohol or tobacco products.
- Juvenile dependency cases concern minors who are being abused or neglected by their parent or guardian.
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, about half of juvenile arrests are for simple assault, drug abuse, curfew violation, disorderly conduct and theft. Only three percent are for violent crimes such as murder, robbery, and rape.
The Aim of Juvenile Court
Juvenile courts in Northern Virginia have specific intentions with regard to dealing with minors:
- The court must protect the privacy of juveniles before the court; this is a major difference between juvenile and regular criminal court.
- The court must protect the public.
- The court must hold juvenile offenders accountable for their actions.
- The court evaluates the appropriate services for rehabilitation.
Juvenile Court Procedures
Several procedures distinguish the procedures in juvenile court from those in the adult criminal court:
- The officials involved in a juvenile court case—including police, prosecutors, intake officers, and judges—have a lot of leeway to handle cases more informally; hence, many juvenile offenders never have a formal hearing in front of a judge.
- Juvenile courts consider a variety of sentencing options, some of which do not require confining, such as probation or counseling.
- Juvenile proceedings are typically sealed or not open to the public.
When your child has been charged with a juvenile criminal offense in Northern Virginia, you need someone who knows the system to fight for his or her rights. The Northern Virginia Firm Taylor Law Company at Taylor Law Company will treat you and your child with compassion while they fight to get the charges dropped—or get the lightest sentence possible. Give us a call at 703-385-5529, and we’ll set you up with a FREE, immediate, no-obligation consultation.