If you’re one of many Virginia parents whose teenager has recently faced an arrest and charges for a crime (e.g., DUI underage, theft, drugs, etc.), there are local resources available to help you navigate the system. If you haven’t already spoken with a social worker, this is often a first step toward building a strong support network for your son or daughter. It’s also helpful to learn as much as you can about juvenile court, which differs in several ways from adult criminal court.
The legal definition of “juvenile” is any person who has not yet reached his or her 18th birthday. People under 18 are typically less mature than adults and have not fully developed their reasoning and critical thinking skills. The court understands this and, therefore, approaches criminal proceedings differently for youth than it does for adults.
Juvenile court means there will be a hearing, not a trial
If your child stands accused of illegal drug activity, underage drinking, shoplifting, car theft, vandalism or another crime, he or she might be worried about having to go to court to stand before a judge. One of the main differences between the juvenile justice system and an adult criminal court is that juveniles face a hearing as opposed to a trial.
When an adult stands trial, proceedings are based solely on legal facts. For juveniles, however, the court considers a defendant’s social history, family life and numerous other factors during a hearing, in addition to legal facts. Teenagers often have extenuating circumstances that are relevant to their poor judgment or lack of prudence, which may have led to their involvement in activities that prompted an arrest. The court takes all of it into consideration when making decisions in juvenile court.
The juvenile justice system is rehabilitative in nature
When a Virginia judge convicts an adult of a crime, he or she renders a sentence as punishment. This might include substantial fines, an order to perform community service or time in jail. If your son or daughter faces conviction in a juvenile court, the basis of sentencing is rehabilitative rather than penalizing.
For instance, if a hearing reveals that your son or daughter has a drug problem, and the judge hands down a conviction, sentencing might include a mandated stay in a rehab facility. If there are family problems at home or your child shows signs of mental illness, etc., the court focuses on trying to help the juvenile in question resolve the issues that are having a negative effect on his or her life.
Helping your child through juvenile justice proceedings
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to seek outside support if your child has been taken into the custody of Virginia police. You have a right to be present during all questioning and to assist your son or daughter to obtain guidance and support throughout proceedings.