Juvenile Charges Can Be Public Record
There is a lot of misinformation out there about the consequences of juvenile convictions, or "adjudications of delinquency", as they are technically called. Many people are still under the impression that the juvenile justice system operates under strict confidentiality rules that protect the privacy of juveniles so the mistakes of a child don't come back to haunt them after they have grown up, learned from those mistakes, and are well on the way to a productive adulthood. Unfortunately, in many cases nothing could be further from the truth. The Virginia General Assembly, in its continual effort to "reform" the juvenile justice system, has gradually chipped away at the privacy protections once afforded juveniles charged with crimes. As a result it is now more important than ever for juveniles to have top quality legal representation in juvenile court to defend their interests and protect their future.
Consequences of a Juvenile Felony Conviction
"Once a Felon, Always a Felon." That's the slogan that best sums up the Commonwealth of Virginia's unfortunate attitude towards teenagers who make a few mistakes during the growing up process these days. Pursuant to Virginia Code § 16.1-305, "Confidentiality of Court Records", subsection B1, "If a juvenile 14 years of age or older at the time of the offense is adjudicated delinquent on the basis of an act which would be a felony if committed by an adult, all court records [with the exception of social history, mental health records, and such] shall be open to the public." In addition, Virginia Code § 16.1-306, dealing with expungement of misdemeanor records, specifically states that "if the juvenile [regardless of age] was found guilty of a delinquent act which would be a felony if committed by an adult, the records shall be retained." Together, those two code sections mean that if a child over the age of 14 is convicted of a felony, that child will have a public record as a convicted felon for the rest of his or her life. Fortunately, Code § 16.1-308 provides that such convictions will not operate to deprive such persons of their civil rights like the right to vote and sit on a jury, but the consequences will still be severe and longlasting. Code § 16.1-299.1 requires that a sample of the defendant's DNA be taken and put on file with the Division of Forensic Science along with other convicted felons. The child's fingerprints will be sent along with a record of the felony conviction to the Central Criminal Records Exchange. The record will be available to colleges, graduate schools, government agencies, even future employers decades from now. When you stop to consider that the threshold for a simple shoplifting case to be charged as a felony is a mere $200, or that kids can be charged with felonies for things like "joy riding" in their parent's car, throwing or going to a "house party" without permission, simple drug possession offenses, even throwing a snow ball, the lifelong consequences that can result for such simple childhood mistakes are nothing short of draconian.
Consequences of a Juvenile Misdemeanor Conviction
In most respects, juveniles convicted or adjudicated delinquent of misdemeanor crimes are still afforded a large measure of privacy. As a general rule, pursuant to Va. Code § 16.1-305, the records are not open to the public and are accessible only to a few limited entities: attorneys in the case; treatment providers; probation officers; DMV; etc. The one glaring loophole is that Va. Code § 16.1-299 now provides that for purposes of forwarding their fingerprints and photographs to the Central Criminal Record Exchange, juveniles are treated exactly the same as adults. So while the court records will remain mostly sealed, there will still be a police record. Dissemination of such records however, is still supposed to be strictly limited. Under Va Code § 19.2-389.1, CCRE fingerprints and other record information on juvenile misdemeanor cases can for primarily only be used for law enforcement investigations (i.e.--fingerprint matching) and by prosecutors and probation officers when the juvenile offender has committed a new crime as an adult and is being sentenced and/or placed on probation. Yet another code section, § 16.1-301, requires "all law-enforcement agencies to take special precautions to ensure that law enforcement records concerning a juvenile are protected against disclosure to any unauthorized person," and specifically states that such records "shall not be open to the public" unless the juvenile was convicted of a violent felony.
So in contrast to felony convictions, misdemeanor criminal records for juveniles should not be made available to colleges or employers. The letter of the law, however, is small comfort for the person whose information is mistakenly disseminated because of some bureaucratic mix up. The best protection juveniles have is preserving their right to have the record expunged, and that can only happen if the case gets reduced to a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
Expungement of Juvenile Records
The expungement process for juvenile records is governed by Virginia Code § 16.1-306: "[T]he clerk of the juvenile and domestic relations district court shall, on January 2 of each year or on a date designated by the court, destroy its files, papers and records, including electronic records, connected with any proceeding concerning a juvenile in such court, if such juvenile has attained the age of 19 years and five years have elapsed since the date of the last hearing in any case of the juvenile which is subject to this section." As discussed above, this provision only applies to misdemeanors. Felony adjudications "shall be retained."
Once an expungement has occurred, the effect is as follows: "the violation of law shall be treated as if it never occurred. All index references shall be deleted and the court and law-enforcement officers and agencies shall reply and the person may reply to any inquiry that no record exists with respect to such person."
Get Qualified Legal Help
If you are a parent looking for an attorney you can trust to represent your child, you have come to the right place. As parents ourselves, we understand that nothing is as precious to you as your children and their future. We understand how frightening it can be when that very future seems in jeopardy. We will do everything in our power to defend them and help your family through this difficult time.
If you have been charged with a crime as a juvenile, the importance of choosing an attorney who knows and understands this specialized area of law cannot be overstated. If you hire a lawyer from the Sprano Law Firm to help you with your juvenile case, we cannot promise you that all of the consequences outlined above will be avoided. No lawyer can change the facts or the law. What we do promise is that you will be made fully aware of all of the possible consequences throughout the court process, and we will do everything in our power to keep those consequences to a minimum.
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To contact one of our trusted juvenile defense attorneys today, call us at 703-763-0979 or send us an e-mail.
Our office is located near the Fairfax County courthouse. We are open for appointments Monday through Friday, and available by phone and e-mail seven days a week.
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