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In Virginia, many people under the age of eighteen will get caught up in incidents and behavior that lead to an arrest. While a large proportion of these incidents do limited damage and can be chalked up to youthful indiscretions, others can lead to serious allegations of juvenile crimes with long-term consequences. Teens and their parents need to be fully aware of the differences between the juvenile law system and the adult legal system when charges are filed.

Juveniles who are charged with a crime will have four basic rights. They are: the right to be informed of those rights and the charges they are facing; the right to have legal representation; the right to refuse to testify against themselves; and the right to confront any witness against them. The basic legal rights of a juvenile are identical to those of an adult except for the adult having the right to a trial by jury and a speedy and public trial. With a juvenile case, the decision is made by the judge and not a jury. In addition, the juvenile will have the right to have his or her privacy protected.

When there is a trial, the juvenile has rights in the hearing. The hearing is known as an adjudicatory hearing in a juvenile delinquency case. The judge will examine the facts and make a decision. In this hearing, the juvenile has the right to: have legal representation; have witnesses appear on his or her behalf; issue a subpoena for witnesses to appear; have witnesses who are accusing them cross-examined; and be protected from self-incrimination through statements that might illustrate guilt.

Like the adult legal system, the prosecutor must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt to win a conviction against a juvenile defendant. If the person is found guilty of juvenile crimes, the judge will generally schedule another day to issue a sentence.

Those who are arrested for a juvenile criminal offense, and their parents or legal guardians, need to be aware of the differences between the juvenile law system and the adult system. Having help from an experienced attorney is imperative.

Source: Virginia.gov, "Legal Rights of Juveniles," accessed on Jan. 25, 2016

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