Twenty-five years ago, at the height of the teenage “wilding” phenomenon sweeping the country, Virginia passed laws allowing juveniles under the age of 16 to face prosecution as adults when charged with allegedly committing numerous types of crimes. When convicted, many of these juveniles then had to serve their sentence in an adult prison. Earlier this year, Virginia legislators not only decided to take another look at this policy, but also to substantially reform it.
As reported in the Daily Press, the new law rescinds the complete discretion prosecutors have heretofore had to charge 14- and 15-year olds as adults for allegedly committing any of 14 enumerated felonies. It also raises the minimum age at which a juvenile “must” face adult prosecution for criminal offenses from 14 to 16.
New juvenile procedure
Henceforth, 14- and 15-year-olds accused of committing murder or aggravated malicious wounding can only face adult criminal prosecution after a transfer hearing conducted by the judge of an appropriate circuit court.
For other felonies for which 14- and 15-year-olds can face adult prosecution, court officers or juvenile probation officers will first need to make such a recommendation to a judge after completing a multi-week investigation and lengthy report assessing the following:
- The nature and seriousness of the alleged crime
- The child’s maturity and mental state
- Whether or not he or she has previous criminal convictions
- The likelihood that, if convicted, a juvenile correctional facility could provided the needed rehabilitation
Based on the report, the judge then decides whether or not to certify the juvenile as an adult.