When Are Juveniles Tried As Adults in Virginia?
While most juvenile criminal offenses in Virginia are resolved entirely within the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (JDR Court), there are certain circumstances where cases are transferred and certified to the Circuit Court for resolution. Cases transferred and certified to Circuit Court result in the juvenile being tried as an adult, and resulting convictions can have substantial and lifelong effects on the juvenile.
There are three different ways that juvenile charges can be transferred to Circuit Court for adjudication in Virginia. They are commonly referred to as Section A, Section B, and Section C transfers based on their corresponding provisions in Virginia Code § 16.1-269.1. Section A transfers can theoretically originate from any felony charge, whereas Section B and Section C transfers can only occur when the juvenile has been charged with certain serious felonies. For any transfer, the juvenile must be at least 14 years old, competent to stand trial, and the government must show probable cause for the underlying offense.
Section A Transfers
Section A transfers begin upon motion of the Commonwealth’s Attorney to have the juvenile transferred. This motion must occur before the juvenile’s trial date and will be argued at a separate hearing solely on the issue of whether the juvenile is not a proper person to remain in the juvenile court. The burden of proof on the government in this hearing is a mere “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning the prosecutor need only show that more than 50% of the facts are in favor of transfer. A judge determining whether to transfer the juvenile will look at a number of factors: the nature and seriousness of the crime; the juvenile’s age, previous history, and school record; the availability of rehabilitative treatment and services; and the mental and physical health of the juvenile. Section A transfers are very subjective and judge-dependent.
Because of the serious consequences of a transfer, the juvenile and their parents should always contest a Section A transfer. In preparing for a Section A transfer hearing, the juvenile and their parents should work closely with their attorney to prepare a case as to why the juvenile should remain in JDR Court.
Both the prosecutor and the juvenile have a right to appeal an adverse decision on a transfer to the Circuit Court, which would then rule on whether the transfer was proper. Again, because of the consequences of a transfer, the juvenile and their parents should appeal any adverse transfer decision.
Section B Transfers
Unlike Section A transfers, Section B transfers are mandatory. Fortunately for juveniles, these mandatory transfers are limited to four offenses: Capital Murder (§ 18.2-31), First/Second Degree Murder (§ 18.2-32), Lynching (§ 18.2-40) and Aggravated Malicious Wounding (§ 18.2-51.2). For these four offenses, the hearing in JDR Court is the equivalent of an adult preliminary hearing.
Just because a juvenile has been charged with a Section B offense does not mean that they will necessarily be tried as an adult. These four offenses include numerous “lesser included offenses.” Either the judge or prosecutor could reduce the charge to any of these lesser included offenses in order to avoid the transfer.
Section C Transfers
Section C transfers, like Section B transfers, are mandatory transfers for certain offenses; however, they require the Commonwealth’s Attorney to give written notice at least seven days prior to the hearing that they are asking for the transfer. The offenses covered by Section C are felony homicide (§ 18.2-33), Abduction (§ 18.2-48), Malicious Wounding (§ 18.2-51), Robbery (§ 18.2-58), Rape (§ 18.2-61), Forcible Sodomy (§ 18.2-61), Object Sexual Penetration (§ 18.2-67.2) and other similarly serious felonies.
As with Section B transfers, a juvenile seeking to avoid being tried as an adult because of a section C transfer can attempt to have the charges reduced to a lesser included offense.
The Effect of Transfer
Once the juvenile court has transferred a charge, any other related charges (even if misdemeanors) will accompany the juvenile to Circuit Court. The juvenile’s charges will proceed to the grand jury and be tried in the same manner as if the juvenile were an adult except for sentencing. The Circuit Court can treat the juvenile the same way the juvenile court would have treated them or may punish them in the same manner as an adult.
Being punished as an adult can have traumatic and lifelong effects on a juvenile. Studies show that juveniles punished as adults have a higher recidivism rate than juveniles tried in the juvenile system. Juveniles have different needs than adults and placing them in adult correction facilities can have disastrous effects on their growth, development, and rehabilitation. Once a juvenile has been transferred to Circuit Court and convicted, they are forever considered an adult. This means that they would be tried as an adult for any subsequent offenses, however minor.
We Can Help
The stakes are high for juveniles who are facing transfer and trial as an adult, and they should not be without experienced legal representation. The juvenile defense lawyers at Livesay & Myers have years of experience defending juvenile and adults across Northern Virginia. We are prepared to fight a juvenile transfer to Circuit Court and work towards reducing the impact that criminal charges will have on a juvenile’s future. If you are the parent or guardian of a juvenile who is facing criminal charges in Northern Virginia, contact us today for a free consultation.