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JDR ‘dabblers’ a danger

Beware of “dabbling” in juvenile court, warns Lynchburg lawyer Margaret Nelson.

An adjudication of guilt can have “serious collateral consequences” under Virginia law, and too many lawyers come into the juvenile and domestic relations court with no appreciation of that fact, according to Nelson, a former prosecutor and public defender.

A juvenile adjudication can lead to later prosecution of a still-underage defendant as an adult, to enhanced sentences and to registration as a sex offender. Lawyers defending juveniles need to think about these issues up-front, Nelson told an audience at the Virginia Women Attorneys Association biennial conference in Williamsburg on Oct. 3.

Registration as a sex offender can be particularly harmful. “Oftentimes, the juvenile sexual aggressor has been a victim in the past,” and is likely to become a victim again, Nelson said. The sex offender registry’s disclosure of offenders’ whereabouts allows juvenile offenders to be targeted by older predators.

Even though the juvenile code overhaul has been on the books for over 10 years, some lawyers still think juvenile court is a good place for a rookie to learn criminal law and procedure, Nelson said.

“You can’t just go in and get your feet wet, as in the past,” thinking “these cases don’t count,” Nelson said.
By Deborah Elkins

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