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What should I expect in juvenile court?

When a person under the age of 18 is charged with a crime in Virginia, he or she might have to face juvenile court. Having some background knowledge on what the court actually does with juvenile cases may be beneficial while dealing with these charges.

When juveniles are accused of a variety of crimes including delinquent acts, traffic infractions or status offenses, the juvenile and domestic relations district court handles these cases. The court also deals with children in need of services. These children are exhibiting behavior that is a serious threat to their own well-being or the safety of others.

The court service unit, or the Juvenile Probation department, will review all complaints and determine whether there are sufficient facts to involve the court. They will also look into the juvenile's background, including their familial, social and educational history. Courts may consider this information in determining a services and supervision plan for the child. The officers in this department will also supervise delinquent juveniles released into home probation.

Juveniles facing delinquency charges and determined to be in the need of services have the right to be represented by a lawyer in this court, but this can be waived in writing. The waiver must be consistent with the interests of the accused minor and the judge must agree with that. If a juvenile is called to appear before the court, the petition, summons, bail form or subpoena will indicate the location and time of their appearance, which must be complied with.

Many young people charged with a juvenile crime are concerned with the privacy of their situations. Juveniles who have petitions or warrants for an offense that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult and they were at least 14 years old at the time of the offense, court hearings are open to the public, however, a judge may decide to close the hearing. This is done by good cause shown by the parties and by a written court order.

In addition, juveniles under the age of 14 have confidential court records and are afforded closed hearings for misdemeanors. The only way juvenile court records will be open to the public is if the juvenile is over the age of 14 and is found guilty of a felony offense.

Understanding the juvenile system can be difficult for some. It is important that juveniles accused of a crime as well as their family members become knowledgeable about the process and their defense options.

Source: Virginia's Judicial System, "The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court," accessed on Jan. 6, 2015

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