Steps in the Virginia Justice System

The juvenile enters the system when an offense is committed and reported by one of many sources:

  • Police Department
  • Fire Department
  • Schools (administrators, social workers, counselors, teachers)
  • Store owners/employees
  • Parents
  • Residents
  • Psychiatrists/therapists

If the juvenile entered the system through police contact, a decision is made whether to counsel and release the youth back to the community or to arrest. If a parent, individual, or agency made the complaint, then the complaint goes to intake.

An intake officer at the court service unit makes the decision whether to take informal action such as crisis-shelter care, detention outreach, or counseling; to take no action; or to file a petition. In some cases, a police officer or the original complainant will appeal to the magistrate if they disagree with the intake officer's decision. The magistrate must certify the charge and the matter is returned to intake to file a petition.

Once a petition has been filed, an intake officer decides if the juvenile should be detained or released to his or her parents/guardians. The decision is based on the juvenile's risk to self, community, or flight.

If the decision is made to detain the juvenile, a detention hearing is held within 72 hours in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court to determine the need for further detention and examine the merits of the charges.

A preliminary hearing is held to ensure that the case has enough merit to carry it to trial. Issues of competency, insanity, subpoenas, and witnesses are also addressed. If no probable cause exists, the case is dismissed. If the cause is determined then the case moves to the adjudicatory hearing. 

Also during this phase issues of transfers and waivers are addressed by the court. If certification is ordered or a direct indictment issued, the case goes to the circuit court (see sections 12-13).

Innocence or guilt is determined at the adjudicatory hearing. Witnesses and testimony are presented similarly to an adult trial. If found not guilty, the case is dismissed. If found guilty, a dispositional hearing is held.

At the dispositional hearing, the pre-disposition report (social history) is used to assist in selecting appropriate sanctions and services. The court decides if the juvenile will be committed to DJJ or face community sanctions such as warnings, restitution, or fines. 

A conditional disposition may be imposed such as probation, which includes participation in CSU programs, referral to local services or facilities, to other agencies, private or boot camp placement, or post-dispositional detention. Once the requirements have been met, the juvenile is released by the court.

If committed to DJJ, the juvenile must undergo psychological, educational, social, and medical evaluations conducted at RDC.

From RDC, the juvenile may go to a privately operated residential facility or a juvenile correctional center (JCC). At the JCC, a committed juvenile receives 24-hour supervision, education, treatment services, recreational services, and a variety of special programs.

After completion of the commitment period, a juvenile may be placed on parole or directly released. During parole, the juvenile transitions to the community through agency program efforts and is afforded local services. Some juveniles may need 24-hour residential care and treatment services provided by a halfway house. Upon completion of parole or entry into the adult criminal justice system, the youth is discharged from the system.

(Appeals Process and Circuit Court Cases) A case may be sent into the appeals process following the dispositional hearing. After the presentation to the circuit court, the case is reconsidered and the issue of guilt is examined. If the juvenile is found not guilty, the case is dismissed. If found guilty, the circuit court judge administers an appropriate juvenile disposition.

If the circuit court received the case through a direct indictment, a trial will take place. If found not guilty, the case is dismissed. If found guilty, the judge will decide whether to render a juvenile disposition or an adult sentence.