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What to expect when a child is charged with a crime

Many young people who are charged with crimes are not aware of the juvenile justice system and the consequences that may lie ahead of them. Children and teenagers who have not reached the age of majority, which is 18 in Virginia and most other states, may be referred to juvenile court by police. Minors under 7 years of age cannot be tried in juvenile court, or any court. Their parents may be held liable in some cases. Youths from 7 to 18 can be taken to juvenile court. If the crime is considered serious by prosecutors, a person in this age group may be tried as an adult.

However, police officers are given some leeway when it comes to determining whether a minor should be referred to the juvenile court system. In some cases, the minor will be detained, held until their parents arrive and released with a mere warning. In other cases, the minor will be taken into custody and referred to a juvenile court officer.

If the minor is referred to juvenile court, a probation officer or prosecutor will look into the case and determine whether to file formal charges. If they decide not to file formal charges, the case will be dismissed or dealt with off the record. If it is handled off the record, the young person may still have to appear before a judge and may face an informal judgment. The judge may require the child to go to counseling, pay a fine or do community service.

If formal charges are filed, there will be an arraignment, where the child is formally charged before a judge, a hearing, and the entering of a plea. These steps are followed by a possible trial and sentencing. Prosecutors will look at the severity of the crime, minor's past history and age, the evidence of wrongdoing and other factors when determining whether to file formal charges. It is especially important to have a solid defense in place, especially if there are formal charges.

Source: "Minor Crime Is a Major Ordeal," accessed on August 11, 2014

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