In Virginia, a juvenile refers to any person below 18 years. The State of Virginia has a juvenile justice system, which is part of the broader justice system. The juvenile justice system deals with people below 18 years. The juvenile justice system has distinct laws and procedures on how to treat juveniles. The statutes in Chapter 11 of the Code of Virginia govern the Juvenile and Domestic District (JDR) courts in Virginia. These statutes outline the information on the various types of cases handled in the juvenile and domestic relations district. The law also outlines the authority that JDR judges possess and the types of cases that JDR courts handle. To understand the JDR system in Virginia, Virginia Criminal Attorney can assist.

Understanding Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts

JDR courts in Virginia are not courts of record and do not involve jury trials. Instead, JDR courts are district courts. The judge hears and decides all cases in a JDR court. If a party is not comfortable with the decision of the judge, the party can appeal to the conclusion of the JDR court to the circuit court. A circuit court is a court of record, and its procedure may involve a jury record. 

JDR courts in Virginia handle a wide range of cases revolving around minors. The court handles cases revolving around children accused of delinquent acts, the status of offenses, and traffic infractions. The court also handles all minors who require services and supervision. The court also handles cases of children who are victims of neglect or abuse, or who have been abandoned. If the custody, parentage, or visitation of a child is before the court, the JDR court handles the proceedings.

JDR courts are also responsible for handling matters involving children in foster care and all children from whom termination of parental rights or relief or custody is sought. If a child is seeking a work permit or emancipation, this case is handled in a JDR court.

At times, a child's eligibility for state or federal benefits may require particular findings by the court. The JDR courts are responsible for gathering such findings. If a household or family member is facing charges of child abuse, the JDR court will listen to such cases. The court will also handle cases that involve child neglect or abuse, or any other charges against a household or a family member concerning a child.

The JDR is responsible for handling spouses seeking support after separation and enforcement of support orders in Virginia. Other areas of focus of the JDR courts include court-ordered rehabilitation systems, court consent for particular mental and medical health treatments. The court also handles all issues or court-ordered blood testing in persons below 18 years. 

What You Need to Know

To understand the JDR court system in Virginia and its operation, you have to comprehend the meanings of various legal terms in the JDR court system.  In the context of the law, a juvenile refers to any person below 18 years.

The law defines a delinquent as any action that qualifies as a violation of court order or a crime. Therefore, if a child is guilty of committing a delinquent act in Virginia, the law terms the child as a delinquent child. 

If the condition, conduct, or behavior of a child results or presents a serious threat to the well-being of the child or the safety of other people, the child requires services. If a child requires supervision, it implies that the child may require close monitoring to enforce school attendance, mainly if the child is habitually skipping school without a valid reason or excuse. A child may require supervision if the child stays away from the guardian or family. If a child escapes and remains away from a care facility needed by the court, the child needs supervision. 

Entering the Juvenile System

On suspicion that a juvenile is guilty of committing an offense, there are various ways of entering the juvenile system.  Various ways include:

An Arrest

If the police think that a minor has committed a crime, the police arrests the minor and take him/her into custody. A police arrest may occur when the police stop and frisk a minor.  The police may temporarily detain the minor and search the outer clothing of the child.

For the police to arrest a minor, they must have reasonable suspicion. For instance, the police may suspect that a minor is armed or dangerous. The police may also arrest a minor if they suspect that the minor has committed or is about to commit an illegal act. 

The law does not require the police to know the specific crime the minor may have committed. However, for the police to stop and frisk a person, the police should have a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed an offense or is about to commit a crime. The police may also frisk a minor if they believe that the minor possesses an illegal item or a weapon. 


A minor may also enter the juvenile system through petition. A petition refers to a situation where another person thinks that a minor did something illegal or if a person believes that the minor requires help. For instance, a member of the society may file a petition with the Intake Officer of the JDR court service unit if he/she feels that a child has engaged in an illegal act or that the child requires a form of assistance.

A complainant is any person who brings a charge against a minor or who wants the court to consider a minor as someone who requires supervision or services. The complainant may also present the juvenile as an abused or neglected child.

A minor may enter the juvenile system through a petition. A petition is a legal document that presents a case involving a minor in court. The request may outline that the juvenile is guilty of committing an act that would qualify as a crime if committed by an adult.  The request may also describe that a child requires supervision or need of service.

In some cases, a minor may join the juvenile system through a written summon showing the charges against the minor. A written summon mainly applies if the juvenile is charged with possession of marijuana, traffic violations, or possession of alcohol. The written summon outlines the date and the time the minor should go to court. If the child fails to appear in court as outlined in the juvenile summon, the judge may issue an order to have the minor picked by the police and placed in detention.

First Appointment with the Juvenile Justice System

The first appointment with the juvenile justice system is known as the intake. During the intake meeting, the intake officer decides whether to file charges against the minor and send him/her to court. The intake officer may choose to file a petition to send the juvenile to a court or to divert the case. If the intake officer dismisses the charges against the minor, the minor will not have to go to the JDR court.

The intake hearing may take place immediately after the arrest. The intake hearing may also take place at a later date. If the hearing is to take place at a later date, the minor receives a letter outlining when to attend the meeting with his/her guardians. 

The attendants of the intake hearing include the minor, the intake officer, the guardians of the minor, and the complainant. The child may choose to have a lawyer present, though, for this meeting, you may attend without a lawyer. The juvenile is free to bring a person who may offer moral support to the intake hearing. The person may include a mentor or a helpful family member. However, the juvenile cannot bring another child to the intake hearing.

During the intake hearing, the way a minor behaves has a significant impact on the outcome of the meeting. A juvenile should be of good conduct during the session. The minor should show respect, arrive on time, and dress appropriately.  If the juvenile case proceeds to court, what the juvenile says during the intake hearing cannot be used against him or her in court.

However, the juvenile may face some consequences for lying at the JDR court. For instance, the child may tell a different story in court from the story he/she explains at the intake hearing.  Telling two separate tales is an indication that the juvenile cannot provide reliable testimony. Therefore, the judge may impeach the child as a witness. The child will not have any chance to present his/her statement in court.

What to Expect

At the intake hearing, the intake officer will ask the complainant to state what happened.  After listening to the statement of the complainant, the intake officer decides whether there is enough information or a probable cause for the case to proceed forward.  The intake officer has the mandate to determine whether to divert the juvenile case or allow the case to continue to court.  However, it is not the duty of the intake officer to determine whether the juvenile is guilty or not.

There are several probable results of an intake hearing.  The first option is the dismissal or the juvenile's charges. The intake officer may also divert the case if he/she decides that the minor does not need to go to juvenile court for the offense committed. If the intake officer decides to dismiss the charges, the officer will not file a petition in the juvenile court. 

After diverting a juvenile case, the intake officer keeps a copy of the report and gives the minor a copy of the diversion. The minor has to adhere to the requirements of the diversion. The diversion may include joining a treatment program mainly in the case of drug and alcohol use. The minor may also need to perform community service. If the juvenile fails to adhere to the requirements of the diversion plan, the case may go back to the juvenile court.

The third option entails filing a petition in the juvenile court.  The intake officer will decide whether to detain the minor in a juvenile detention facility.  The officer may also choose to release the juvenile to the custody of his/her parents or guardians. When deciding on whether to detain or release the child, the intake officer may consider several factors. For instance, the officer may consider the possibility of the juvenile harming himself or herself and the risk of harming the community. The officer may also weigh the chance of the juvenile not appearing at the juvenile court after the release. 

The next step entails planning an appointment of counsel or a first appearance hearing. If there is a petition against the juvenile for committing an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult, the intake officer must notify some entities. For instance, the intake officer has to inform the superintendent of the child's school. The officer must inform the superintendent for some juvenile acts like homicide, firearm offenses, criminal sexual assault, bodily wounding, and felony. Notification is also necessary for crimes involving possession or distribution of Schedule I or II controlled substance. 

If the child is involved in the sale, distribution, and manufacture of marijuana, notification to the school is necessary. The same case applies if the juvenile is engaged in the recruitment of other juveniles into a criminal street gang. Notification is also essential if the child is a member of a prohibited illegal street gang activity. For all acts involving robbery, arson, or acts of violence by the mob, the intake officer informs the school superintendent. 

Detention Hearing

officer may hold the juvenile in secure detention while awaiting trial. This scenario may happen if it is apparent that the child may be a risk to self or the community. The officer may also hold the juvenile if it is evident that the child may not show up in court.

Before the detention takes effect, the juvenile is entitled to a detention hearing. The detention hearing aims to determine if there is a need to detain the minor further in the juvenile detention facility. At the detention hearing, the minor is entitled to an attorney. If the child has no access to an attorney, the court may appoint a pro bono lawyer on behalf of the child. 

Typically, the detention hearing takes place within three days or seventy-two hours from the time the juvenile enters the detention facility. The hearing determines whether the juvenile stays in detention until the court date. 

The detention hearing may have several outcomes. The judge may allow the minor to go to his/her home or another supervised location until the court date. The judge may allow the juvenile to go home but order him/her to wear an electronic monitoring device. If the juvenile leaves the house or the legalized location, the electronic device sends a request to the authorities.

The judge may also release the juvenile to go home on house arrest with some strict rules in place.  The judge may fail to order a release and instead approve the remaining of the minor in detention until the court hearing. The judge may decide to continue holding the juvenile if he/she believes that the child will pose a danger to the self, the community, or property. The judge may also detain the minor if he believes that the child will not show up for the court hearing. If the juvenile runs away from a placement where the judge ordered him/her to stay, the judge may recommend the detention of the child.

A juvenile may remain in detention for up to 21 days if the child is held before his/her adjudication hearing. The adjudication hearing helps to prove the guilt or innocence of the minor. After the adjudication hearing, a minor may be in detention for an additional 30 days before his/her deposition.

 Adjudicatory Hearing

The adjudication hearing is the actual trial in juvenile delinquency cases. It is at the adjudication hearing that the judge verifies the facts outlined in the petition or warrant. The judge determines whether the allegations against the juvenile are true or force.  To have a fair trial, the judge has the discretion to temporarily postpone a case to allow all the parties involved ample time to get a lawyer and make other necessary preparations for trial. 

During the juvenile trial, the child accused of a crime has several rights. The juvenile has a right to be represented by a lawyer according to the provisions of the law. The minor also has a right to present a witness in court. The child also enjoys the legal right to subpoena or to require a witness to appear.

If some witnesses are testifying against the juvenile, the juvenile has the right to question or cross-examine the witnesses. The minor also has a right against self-incrimination. Self-incrimination refers to answering questions and making statements that tend to portray the minor as guilty. Self-incrimination statements are usually against the minor. 

For delinquency cases, all charges against the juvenile must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  If the judge concludes that the child is delinquent, the child's case may extend to another day when the judge will make sentencing or a disposition decision. 

The judge does not have to make the disposition decision immediately. The judge may require time to gather additional information, including the child's background. For instance, the judge may have to review the history of the child and the prior offenses before making the sentence. Based on the findings of the judge, the judge makes a recommendation on the best corrective measures to take with the child.  However, in some cases, the judge may make a deposition the same day. The judge may make the sentence for traffic cases immediately at the end of the adjudication hearing.


The judge may order various sentences or dispositions for delinquency convictions. The judge may place the child under probation. While on probation, the juvenile is under the supervision of a probation officer. The juvenile's parents or guardians have to cooperate with the probation officer and adhere to the rules of probation. 

The court may order the guardians and the family of the child to participate in various services or programs.  If the family or the guardians violate the set requirements, they may be subject to fines or jail time. If a child violates the terms of probation, the child may be subject to new charges and new additional punishments. 

Transfer or Certification to Adult Court

If a child is fourteen years or older and facing felony charges, the felony may be transferred or certified in circuit court. At the circuit court, the child would be tried as an adult.  A hearing has to take place to determine whether to transfer the child to a circuit court.

The circuit hearing cannot occur without notifying the child's attorney of the child's parents or guardians. For a transfer, the child should have attained 14 years at the time of committing the alleged felony. 

At the circuit court, the minor will face trial in the same way as an adult.  For some felony cases, the judge has to decide whether to hear the case in a circuit court or JDR court.  When deciding whether to handle a case in a JDR or circuit court, the judge considers various factors, including the child's previous involvement in court. The judge also considers the age of the child, emotional maturity, school record information, and competency. For child offenses revolving around traffic violations, the JDR court is responsible for handling. 


If a juvenile is not comfortable with the JDR court ruling, he/she has a right to appeal in a circuit court.  If the child chooses to challenge/appeal, he/she will undergo a new trial in the circuit court. However, the appeal has to be within ten days from the Juvenile court hearing.

Contact a Fairfax Criminal Lawyer Near Me

If you or your child is undergoing a juvenile trial in a JDR court, you need the guidance of a competent attorney. Virginia Criminal Attorney understands that children need a skilled attorney to face the court on their behalf. If you are in Virginia, contact us at 703-718-5533 and speak to one of our attorneys today.