Virginia Criminal Attorney law firm is a top rated firm serving the areas of Fairfax, Virginia and Northern Virginia specializing in criminal defense. With over twenty-four (24) years’ experience as a criminal attorney and court-appointed attorney, we can handle your juvenile case competently and also offer guidance on the juvenile justice process in Virginia.

In its bid to reform its juvenile criminal justice system, the Virginia General Assembly has gradually withdrawn the privacy accorded to juveniles facing court charges, and thus, the impact of such charges on their future can be life-changing. As such, it is vital for parents or guardians to minors to hire a top quality attorney who can defend their children’s interests for the sake of their future.

With that in mind, we will elaborate on juvenile criminal cases and take a look at the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court process for juvenile criminal cases below.

Virginia Juvenile Criminal Cases

A juvenile in Virginia law is a child or young person who is not yet old enough to be regarded as an adult. As such, a juvenile criminal case is one involving a minor who is accused of committing an offense that would be deemed criminal if committed by an adult. These cases are also known as juvenile delinquency cases and are usually heard in juvenile and domestic relations district courts which are found in each city and county in Virginia. Other non-criminal cases involving minors are known as status offenses and are defined as conduct considered unlawful because it is committed by minors. Such offenses include skipping school, underage possession of tobacco and underage drinking.

Virginia juvenile justice system deals with juvenile cases under its own code that regulate how minors are handled. It includes Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts (J&DR) District Courts, law enforcement, juvenile offenders programs, and juvenile detention and correctional facilities.

Differences between Adult and Juvenile Justice Systems 

There are different justice systems for adults and juveniles because cases involving minors are taken differently from adults, considering their rehabilitation potential and levels of accountability. Even though there are concerns regarding public wellbeing and the need to hold juvenile offenders responsible for their acts, the juvenile system puts more weight on rehabilitation than punishing juvenile offenders.

Rehabilitation aims at restoring a person to someone useful in society through education and therapy, which enables them to make informed decisions in the future. 

There is also notable contrast between the terminology used in the juvenile courts and that used in the adult courts. Here we compare standard terms as used in the two systems.

Adult Courts

Juvenile Courts




Take into custody

File Charges



Adjudicatory hearing

Found guilty

Found delinquent







Some other common terminologies frequently used in the juvenile courts include; delinquent which means a juvenile who commits an act which is criminal if done by an adult person, a Child in Need of Supervision (CHINSup) meaning a child who is an absentee in school or one who runs from home, while a Child in Need of Services (CHINS) implies a minor whose conduct, behavior or condition is a threat to themselves or others, and hence the child needs rehabilitation or treatment which is not forthcoming. 

Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court

The Commonwealth of Virginia has a Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (J&DR) in every county in the state, whose duties are to;

  • Hear marital relations cases where there have been violations of laws,
  • Hear cases involving child custody and support,
  • Control the placement of neglected, abandoned or delinquent children,
  • Hear criminal cases involving juveniles and delinquents,
  • Hear foster care and entrustment agreements,
  • Order court enforced rehabilitation services,
  • Handle cases involving adults accused of child neglect, abuse, violating family laws,
  • Handle cases involving adults disputing on child support, visitation, or parentage,
  • To provide court consent for particular medical treatment.

What is the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Process for Juvenile Cases?

  1. Entry into the Juvenile System

The process of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for juvenile cases begins when the minor enters the justice system through;

  • Petition- If a complainant thinks that a juvenile did something illegal or maybe requiring help, they may ask the court’s service unit to consider the juvenile as a child in need of services or supervision. The court may then summon the juvenile.
  • Arrest- A juvenile can also enter the system through an arrest. They could be taken into custody, where they could be charged with violating the Virginia Code.
  • Written summons- A juvenile may be summoned to appear before a court. The summons indicates the charges against them. This would most likely be the case with minor traffic offenses.
  1. Intake

The intake hearing is conducted immediately after the juvenile's arrest or when they appear following the written summons. At the meeting often, is the juvenile, their parents or guardians, the intake officer, the complainant, and the juvenile's lawyer. The intake officer listens to all parties and decides whether there’s probable cause to submit a petition in court or divert the case. They, however, cannot determine the innocence or guilt of the juvenile.

The intake has three likely outcomes; first, it may result in the dismissal of the complaints against the juvenile. Secondly, it may result in informal action or case divert. This implies that the juvenile’s case is diverted from the justice system to another alternative program such as treatment, community service, or counseling. Failure to complete the assigned diversion program may see the case taken back to the juvenile court.

Thirdly, the intake officer may file the petition, meaning that the juvenile will be charged in court. They, therefore, will decide if the offender should be held in juvenile detention or to go home as they await the upcoming appointment with the court. This is informed by the juvenile’s potential threat to themselves, the community or their risk of running away.

  1. Detention Hearing

If the minor is detained, a hearing will be conducted in seventy-two (72) hours to determine the need for any further detention. The hearing is conducted in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations (JD & R) district court. They may have a self-appointed attorney, or the court may avail one for them.

There are various possible outcomes of the detention hearing. The judge might let the juvenile go home, a supervised place, or put them under house arrest with or without strict rules, until the trial hearing. They may also order the minor to be detained till the trial hearing.

The detention period lasts for up to twenty-one (21) days until the adjudication hearing.

Appointment of Counsel Hearing

In this short procedure, the judge explains the charges that the offender is facing and asks them whether they need an attorney, if they do, the judge will appoint one for them in case they cannot afford one, or their guardians or parents may hire one for them.

  1. Adjudicatory Hearing

The purpose of the adjudicatory hearing is to make a judicial ruling in juvenile cases just as a trial in adult criminal court cases. The judge determines whether the facts as stated in the petition are true.

Delinquency Adjudicatory Hearing

Delinquency adjudicatory hearing is where the judge decides whether the offender is delinquent, that is guilty of criminal charges or not. It is held within a hundred and twenty (120) days of the intake hearing if the offender is not detained. If they are detained after the intake hearing, their adjudication hearing must take place within twenty-one (21) days of the day of their detention.

There are three (3) possible results of the delinquency adjudicatory hearing. First, the court may find the juvenile not delinquent, and thus dismiss the case, they may also ask for more time, thus delaying the decision making, and lastly, they may find the juvenile guilty.

If the judge finds the minor delinquent, they move on to the dispositional or sentencing process. They may request the juvenile's background information before making a decision on their disposition, or they may make one immediately after the adjudicatory hearing.

A Child in Need of Services (CHINS) Adjudicatory Hearing

In this trial, the judge decides whether the juvenile’s conduct, behavior or condition may present a risk to themselves or another person and whether they need services or supervision.

A CHINS adjudicatory hearing outcome may lead to case dismissal if the judge finds that the minor is not a Child in Need of Services or Supervision. They may also conclude that they are a CHINS or a CHINSup and hence order a psychological evaluation or background report on the minor, or they may have the juvenile's situation reviewed so as to decide which services they require and whether they can afford them.

  1. Dispositional Hearing

This is the sentencing stage of the juvenile court process. Its purpose is to provide a program of treatment, training, rehabilitation, or custody for a juvenile in respect to the outcome of the adjudicatory hearing.

Delinquency Cases

This is where the judge rules on appropriate sanctions and services to be imposed on the juvenile after the judge finds them guilty of committing delinquent acts. Sanctions are imposed on the juvenile for failing to comply with the law. The judge is likely to issue the following sentences either individually or combined as guided by the Virginia Code 16.1-278.8 VC. They may;

  • Order the minor and their parents or guardians to counseling,
  • Place the juvenile on probation,
  • Order the rehabilitation or treatment services for the juvenile,
  • Order the offender to pay a five hundred dollars ($500) fine,
  • Order restitution to the victim,
  • Order the minor to community service, or to take part in the restorative justice process,
  • Transfer the juvenile’s custody to another adult or to the social services department,
  • Suspend the Juvenile’s driver’s license,
  • Sentence the juvenile to detention for not more than six (6) months,
  • Commit the juvenile to a correctional facility under the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.

CHINS cases

If a child needs supervision, they may be placed on probation, or the court may allow the minor to continue under their parents or guardian’s custody, subject to terms and conditions. The may also order the parents or guardians to take part in counseling, treatment, and other specific programs. They may also rule on the custody transfer of the juvenile to another adult, or a social welfare department.

  1. After Juvenile Court

The remaining stages that a juvenile whose disposition has already been issued, goes through include;

Court Fines and Cost

If a juvenile is ordered to pay fines and costs by the courts, it would be prudent to do so on time to avoid other consequences such as the suspension of their driver's license. They could enter into a payment agreement with the court if they are likely to face financial challenges paying off their dues.

Virginia Juvenile Probation

The offender is most likely put on probation if they are found to be CHINSup or delinquent. A probation officer will be assigned to the minor, who will regularly meet with them and their guardians or parents. They will also set up rules and terms of the probation, and a supervision plan that the minor must adhere to, to keep off more trouble.

Virginia Juvenile Court Appeal

The minor has a right to appeal the Virginia Juvenile and Domestic Relations district court’s ruling, within ten (10) days of the disposition hearing. When granted, the trial will be heard in a Virginia circuit court. An appeal may also reach the circuit court through the direct indictment.

  1. How Can a Juvenile Exit the Juvenile System?

Release from the Virginia Juvenile System, Probation or Parole

After a juvenile is released from the correctional facility, they are put on parole, which is almost similar to probation. The juvenile’s parole officer and the juvenile will meet up in the facility where they plan on the minor’s return home and sets up rules and regulations to be observed during the supervised parole period, failure to which the minor may be sent back to the juvenile correctional facility.

One can be released from parole or probation if they obey all probation terms, stay away from trouble, and undertake all court-imposed requirements. A juvenile can, however, remain on parole or probation till they are twenty-one (21) as determined by their case facts. 

What are the Possible Consequences of Virginia Juvenile Convictions?

Due to the misinformation regarding the consequences of Virginia adjudications of delinquency, the public tends to think that the privacy of minors under the juvenile system is protected under strict confidentiality rules, which would not allow the ghosts of past cases haunt young people in future. This, unfortunately, is not the case.

As we will explain below, there can be detrimental, far-reaching consequences of these cases on a minor’s life which depends on the crimes they committed.

Results of Misdemeanor Juvenile Convictions   

Juveniles facing adjudications of delinquency for misdemeanor cases may still enjoy a considerable measure of privacy. The Virginia Code 16.1-305, prohibits the access of court records on juveniles facing misdemeanor charges, by just anybody. Such information is only made available to treatment providers, probation officers, the Virginia Department for Motor vehicles (DMV), or the juvenile's attorney.  Virginia Code 16.1- 299, however, allows the Central Criminal Record Exchange to keep pictures, fingerprints and DNA information of the juvenile. Such information is only available to law enforcement, probation officers and prosecutors, in case the juvenile commits new crimes.

Virginia Code 16.1- 301, ensures that all law enforcement agencies handle juvenile records cautiously so that such information is not available to unauthorized persons. It categorically states that the recorded information should not be made available to the public unless the conviction was as a result of felony crimes.

Results of Felony Juvenile Convictions

The Virginia Code 16.1-305, allows the public to access court records on juveniles aged fourteen (14) years or older adjudicated delinquent for felonious crimes, apart from the minor’s mental health records and social history. Virginia Code 16.1- 306, allows the retention of court file records for a minor adjudicated delinquent for felony charges despite the minor's age. Thus, the above two statutes imply that a juvenile of 14 years and above convicted for felonious crimes will have their record in the public domain for their entire lives.

The Virginia Code 16.1- 308 fortunately, prohibits the discrimination of juveniles described above based on their criminal records. As such, they still retain their civil rights; for instance, the right to sit on a jury, or the right to vote. Virginia Code 16.1- 299.1 obligates the collection of the defendant's DNA samples by the Division of Forensic Science, for record keeping. The Central Criminal Records Exchange will also receive the defendant's fingerprints and their felony conviction for record keeping too.

The information on the child delinquent is thus available to members of the public and other institutions such as colleges, government agencies, graduate schools, and even potential employers if they do a background check on the juvenile. 

Juveniles Records Expungement

The clerk in the J &DR courts in Virginia is mandated by the Virginia Code 16.1- 306, to destroy any file records in paper or electronic forms, regarding a juvenile’s proceedings in such a court, provided that the juvenile has reached the age of nineteen (19) years, or five (5) years have passed since the hearing of the juvenile's case. This code, however, only applies to misdemeanor cases. Felonious adjudications file records are reserved as provided for in the law.

Once an expungement is conducted, the violations are treated as if they never happened.

Finding a Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

There's nothing that is as precious to a parent as their child and so, anything that could ruin their future could be frightening. We understand this at Virginia Criminal Attorney law firm, and as a former court-appointed attorney for juvenile criminal cases, our specialized experience will enable us to get the most favorable outcome for your loved ones.

We serve the areas of Fairfax, VA, and Northern Virginia. Call us at 703-718-5533, and we will be glad to discuss your juvenile’s case with you.