Like other states, Virginia’s court system will typically treat minors differently than it does adults. Instead of issuing harsh penalties like imprisonment, an officer of the court might offer a chance at rehabilitation. No one wants to take away a young person’s opportunity to turn their life around and become a productive member of society.
To this end, Virginia law allows alternative punishments for juveniles convicted of certain criminal offenses. A diversion program could prevent a child from going to prison and ending up with a criminal record. However, the choice of whether to enter a diversion program isn’t up to the arrested offender. Instead, the intake officer is the one to decide if they are eligible based on the type of charge, evidence connecting them to the crime, and other contributing factors.
Diversion Programs in Virginia
Various diversion programs are available in Virginia, depending on the circumstances of the case. The intake officer might recommend a specific program to the parents of the minor. If the juvenile offender successfully completes the program, the conviction won’t appear on their criminal record, and they can avoid time behind bars.
The different types of diversion programs include:
- Diversion hearing – The arrested child can attend a hearing with their parents or guardians and the hearing officer and discuss the incident. The victim of the offense and the complainant may also be present and could give a written statement. The offender will receive a sanction at the end that could involve substance abuse counseling, community service, or entering another court-approved program.
- Monitored diversion program – A diversion counselor will monitor or supervise the juvenile for up to 90 days.
- Unofficial counseling – The intake officer might ask the parents if they can counsel the child. They could also refer them for outside services, such as mental health services or drug and alcohol services.
- Victim impact/core value classes or community service – The child can learn about the consequences of committing a crime with discussions and homework. Participating in community service allows them to do something to make a positive impact on their community.
The intake officer can file a petition, starting court proceedings, if the juvenile offender doesn’t complete the recommended program or commits another criminal offense. At that time, the child cannot continue the diversion program and could face additional charges.
When Is an Offender Eligible?
A juvenile offender is eligible for a diversion program after the intake process. However, if the minor committed a felony or particularly violent crime, they might not be allowed the option of entering a diversion program.
After the offender has been charged, an intake officer will perform an assessment to gather the necessary information regarding the offense and may interview both the child and their family. There are two types:
- Youth Assessment Screening Instrument – This determines if the offender is likely to commit another crime in the future.
- Global Assessment of Individual Needs-Short Screen – This can identify mental illness or other problems the juvenile faces, such as substance abuse, anxiety, or depression.
Once the intake officer completes the assessments, they will decide if the minor child qualifies for a diversion program and recommend the option they believe will work best for the situation.
How a Lawyer Could Help
It can be devastating to learn that your son or daughter faces criminal charges. You worry about their future and whether they can get their life back on track. It’s a stressful and overwhelming experience for any family to go through. Fortunately, there might be ways to avoid a harsh sentence and the long-term consequences that come with it.
If your child has been arrested or charged with a crime in Virginia, do not hesitate to contact Whitestone Young, PC. We have successfully defended juveniles for more than 40 years and will put our experience to work on behalf of your child. Call (703) 591-0200 today to speak to an experienced and dedicated Fairfax juvenile criminal defense lawyer.