As children go on spring break and get ready for summer vacation, it is important for them and their guardians to have a fundamental understanding of the juvenile criminal justice system. Often times, juveniles (those who are under the age of 18) lack the maturity to fully appreciate the consequences of their actions, so it is important for us to stress the importance of choosing friends wisely and staying out of trouble. Attorney Lori A. Butts discussed the rights that children have in the juvenile system a few weeks ago; in this edition, I am going to focus on some of the consequences that children might face if they get into trouble.
The Virginia juvenile justice system treats juveniles different than adults because there is a greater emphasis on rehabilitation than on punishment. Rehabilitation involves providing services and programs to get children who have come into contact with the juvenile justice system back on the right track. However, depending on the crime committed, juveniles can end up on probation, serving time in a juvenile detention center, or even being tried as an adult for felonious acts in Virginia.
If a juvenile is 14 years of age or older and is alleged to have committed a felony, it is possible for that child to be tried as an adult. In order for this to happen, a transfer hearing is held in the juvenile court, and a judge determines whether the juvenile meets the criteria to be tried as an adult pursuant to § 16.1-269.1 of the Code of Virginia. Additionally, in serious cases such as robbery, certain drug offenses, murder, carjacking, and malicious wounding (among other crimes), if the prosecutor gives notice that they intend to try the juvenile as an adult and probable cause is proven at the preliminary hearing, the juvenile’s charges will automatically be certified to the circuit court for trial as an adult.
Most of us have heard the phrases “guilty by association” and “wrong place at the wrong time.” This is extremely relevant for juveniles today as the consequences for hanging out with the wrong crowd can be devastating to their futures. Just being present with someone who is committing a crime can lead to criminal charges for a juvenile who may have had no involvement with carrying out the criminal acts.
Some think that having a juvenile conviction is not that serious because the charges will eventually be wiped off the juvenile’s record. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In most cases, juvenile records are destroyed once the juvenile turns 19 and five years have passed since the last hearing. However, if a juvenile is convicted of a crime that would be a felony if committed by an adult, that record remains public. It is imperative that we stress to our children the importance of the associations they make and the consequences of their actions. If you know a juvenile that is charged with a criminal act, it is crucial to ensure that he or she has competent representation in the juvenile justice system.
By Elliott O. Moody, Esquire