Articles Posted in Juvenile

By Andrew Criado, Senior Attorney

The four most important words in criminal law: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. What does that mean? It means that a person charged with a crime cannot be convicted and punished unless the prosecution can prove the defendant’s guilt in court beyond a reasonable doubt. The government’s evidence has to erase all reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt. What if, at the end of the prosecution’s case, there remains some doubt about whether the defendant committed the crime? Then the charge must be dismissed. What if the prosecution proves that the defendant probably committed the crime? Then the charge must be dismissed. In a criminal case, any conclusion other than proof beyond a reasonable doubt requires that the charge be dismissed—forever.

The government gets one shot at proving its case. This concept is important because it makes clear that a criminal case is about whether the government can prove the crime rather than whether the crime actually happened. There are many cases where the evidence shows that the defendant most likely committed the crime but the charge is nonetheless dismissed because the evidence does not meet the high burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

A Miranda warning is designed to be a protection against self incrimination, that is, a protection from defendants being forced to make statements or give other information that will help the government convict them of a crime. The Miranda case says that where a person is in custody and being interrogated (asked questions) those circumstances are similar to a forced confession. For that reason, the police must first warn a person who is in custody and being questioned that they have the right to remain silent, that what they do say will be used against them in court, and that they have the right to a lawyer. Unless the warning is given, the statements made by the defendant cannot be used in court.

Why did I receive a Miranda warning? Simply, because the police hope that you will make statements they can use to convict you. It is never just to “get your side of things,” it is always to build a case against you.  At the end of the warning, you may be asked if you understand you rights and are willing to waive them. The answer should be “no” 100% of the time until you can talk to a lawyer. Any statement you make, even if you declare your innocence, can be twisted and used against you.

But what if you were arrested and never received a Miranda warning?  Does that mean the charges will be dropped? Not necessarily. First, any statements that are volunteered to the police don’t require a Miranda warning. In other words, if you tell them things without being asked a question, Miranda doesn’t apply because you aren’t being “interrogated.” This is true even if you have already said you are remaining silent and have asked for a lawyer.

In the world of criminal law in Virginia, Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts oversee cases that involve juveniles (anyone under the age of 18 at the time of the offense) accused of crimes, or crimes committed by adults where a juvenile or a “family or household member” is the alleged victim. In Prince William County, the J&DR Court handles cases that take place in the County, as well as the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park, the Towns of Haymarket, Quantico, Dumfries, and Occoquan. In this post, I will briefly discuss the basics of cases where a juvenile is accused of a crime.

The primary role of the Court in any criminal case is to uphold the rule of law. If a person is found guilty of a crime, it is the responsibility of the court to impose a sentence that takes into consideration the appropriate punishment for the Defendant in relationship to what has been done, as well as the possibility of deterring the Defendant and others from committing similar acts in the future, or rehabilitating the Defendant to be a more productive member of society. In J&DR Court when it comes to the criminal conduct of juveniles, the Court often sees its role much more as rehabilitative—to teach the juvenile to learn from their mistakes and mature into adulthood.

When a juvenile is accused of committing a crime, the process can begin in a variety of ways. The juvenile can be arrested just like an adult. If that happens, they can be held at the Juvenile Detention Home until the next day court is in session, where a hearing is held to determine whether the juvenile can be returned home until their court date or not. If a juvenile is detained, the law requires that a hearing must be held within 21 days to review that status or resolve the case, and then every 21 days thereafter until the case is resolved.

Have you ever wondered when a police officer is authorized to search you? Or if he has enough evidence against you to make an arrest? This is where the familiar terms “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” come in to play. These concepts are fundamental in determining if and when a person can be detained for questioning, searched and arrested (seized).

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. But what exactly does ‘unreasonable’ mean? Rather than following a neat, concise set of legal rules, reasonable suspicion and probable cause are based on the circumstantial interpretation made by the police officer(s). However, the officer’s interpretation must align with the Constitution, which is not always the case. In this week’s post I break down these two terms and provide examples through hypothetical DUI stops.

● Reasonable suspicion for an investigative stop – An officer can briefly detain a person if he has a reasonable belief that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed. The officer may also perform a limited search (frisk) of the outside of the person’s clothing if he has a reasonable belief that the person is armed. The officer’s belief must be based on facts or circumstances. In other words, an officer cannot simply “guess” or “feel” as though a crime has been, is being, or will be committed.

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