Parents normally come into contact with the juvenile justice system in one of two situations. The first is when the parent feels that a child is out of control and asks the court for help in imposing discipline. The second is when a child is charged with a crime.
For an in-depth discussion of juvenile justice in Virginia Beach, Diane Fener’s Needs assessment for the City of Virginia Beach includes a detailed review of the system there.
For a list of service providers, refer to the Juvenile Justice Resource Book that Diane Fener compiled for the Public Defender Commission.
CHINS is the acronym use to refer to two types of cases in which a child can be brought before a juvenile court judge.
The first is a “Child in Need of Supervision.” – Virginia Code Section 16.1-228 defines this term to include children who are habitually truant from school or who have run away from home.
The second is a “Child in Need of Services.” – Virginia Code Section 16.1-228 defines this term more broadly to include any behavior or condition that presents a serious threat to the child’s well being or safety.
CHINS cases are started by filing a petition. Anyone can file the petition. It can be a parent, a relative, a school official, or even a neighbor. In Norfolk, for example, school principals are now regularly filing CHINS petitions in the cases of children who are truant.
When a parent wants to ask the court for help in controlling a child, the procedure is to file a petition with the court. In Virginia Beach, the juvenile intake office is located on the basement level of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. In Norfolk, the intake office is located on the third floor of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. The juvenile intake office will take the information and help the parent fill out the form. The intake officer makes a preliminary decision as to whether the case can go to a judge.
The law requires that the person making the petition have first tried to deal with the problem using resources other than the courts such as treatment, counselling, or some other services. (Section 16.1-260D) In Virginia Beach, the intake officers will generally accept the petition for filing if the parent says that they have tried counselling and gone to at least three sessions without success.
The intake officers have some leeway and can try to resolve the problem without proceeding with the petition if: (1) the case does not involve a violent juvenile felony, (2) the child has not been brought into the system before, and (3) there is no pending complaint to require attendance at school.
If the case involves a violent juvenile felony, the intake officer has to accept the petition. In the case of all other crimes that, if committed by an adult would be a serious misdemeanor or a felony, the intake officer can refuse to process the petition but must advise the complaining party that they have the right to present their complaint to a magistrate. If the magistrate finds probable cause, he or she will issue a warrant that is then delivered to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and the intake officer is then required to file the petition.
Juvenile Delinquency Petitions
Delinquency is the violation of any local, state, or federal law, or the violation of a court order. (16.1-228) A criminal case against a juvenile begins the same way as a CHINS case except that the petitioner is more likely to be a police officer, the City Attorney, or the Commonwealth Attorney. Most juvenile criminal cases are prosecuted in the Juvenile Court. Very serious charges, however, are handled in adult court. Read more information on when a juvenile can be tried as an adult.
The parents are entitled to notice of the petition. (16.1-263) Any final order or decision of the Juvenile Court can be appealed to the Circuit Court. (16.1-296) The appeal is “de novo,” meaning that the evidence is heard again, as it would be if there had not been a trial in the Juvenile Court. If the offense would be a felony if committed by an adult, the juvenile can request a jury of twelve persons. In the case of any other offense, the juvenile can request a jury of seven persons. (16.1-296C)
In most cases, juvenile court proceedings are confidential. If you go to one of the juvenile courts you will find everyone waiting in the hallway. As the judges go through their dockets, the parties in each case are paged over the PA system. This is because each case is confidential and the public is not allowed into the courtroom to watch the proceedings. This rule does not apply in the cases of juveniles who are tried as adults. Their hearings occur in open court.
All records of cases involving juveniles are kept confidential and access is limited to specific persons with a need to see them. (16.1-305) This general rule no longer applies, however, to crimes that would be felonies if committed by an adult if the juvenile was 14 or older at the time of the offense. (16.1-305B1)
In juvenile cases the final decision about what to do with a child is called the “disposition. This word is used rather than “sentencing because the remedies the court can order are more varied than those available in an adult criminal case and because the term is less stigmatizing.
Choices Available to the Judge
Expungement is when the records of a juvenile case are destroyed. This is often an important concern for parents. In most cases, the records are automatically destroyed once the juvenile has turned 19 and 5 years have passed since the last hearing in his or her case. This rule no longer applies to crimes that would be felonies if committed by adults. The records in such cases remain public just like an adult conviction would. (16.1-305B1)
Another provision relating to expungement concerns cases where the juvenile is found not guilty or the proceeding is otherwise dismissed. In such cases, the person can ask to have the records of the case destroyed. The request must be granted unless the Commonwealth Attorney shows good cause why the records should be retained.
Once records have been destroyed, “the violation of law shall be treated as if it never occurred.” The court and all law enforcement agencies must, if asked, say that there is no record and the person may say that they have no record. (16.1-306)
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