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No Right to Destruction of Juvenile Records in Virginia

By David M. Reutter

The Virginia Supreme Court has held that there is no vested right under state law to have juvenile records destroyed. The Court, however, found that an expert’s testimony was inadmissible because that testimony was based upon an improper finding that the conduct charged in the juvenile proceeding had actually occurred despite a nolle prosequi.

Before the Court was an interlocutory appeal brought by the Commonwealth of Virginia to contest a Prince William Circuit Court’s order in a civil proceeding to find Marvin Darryl Garrett had a vested right to have records that charged him with three counts of sexual carnal knowledge of a minor when he was a teenager. Those charges were ultimately nolle prosequi.

The proceeding to classify Garrett as a Serious and Violent Predator (SVP) came upon his completion of a sentence for rape of an adult. Prison officials had administered a standardized test that determined Garrett was likely to commit further violent sexual crimes upon release.

Prior to trial on the SVP designation, Garrett filed a motion in limine to prohibit introduction of his juvenile records. While the Supreme Court found that clerks have a duty to annually destroy the “files, papers, and records” concerning prior juvenile defendants who are no longer subject to the court’s jurisdiction after specified time frames, Code §16.1 – 306 “granted merely an inchoate right until such time as the statute then mandated that the destruction of the records would occur. Thus, Garrett did not have a vested right to have his juvenile records destroyed and they are admissible at his SVP trial upon remand.

The Supreme Court, however, agreed with the Circuit Court that the Commonwealth’s expert, Dr. Ilona Gravers, a licensed clinical psychologist, was properly excluded. She diagnosed Garrett of “Paraphilia, Not Otherwise Specified…Sexual Abuse of Child.” That diagnosis was based upon the three dismissed juvenile charges for which there is no sworn testimony to support the allegations. As those charges were the significant factor in Dr. Gravers’s diagnosis, her opinion was properly excluded because there is no legal sufficiency to permit her to infer that Garrett committed those offenses.

Therefore, the Circuit Court’s order was reversed in part and affirmed in part. See: Commonwealth of Virginia v. Garrett, 276 Va. 590; 667 S.E.2d 739 (2008).

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Related legal case

Commonwealth of Virginia v. Garrett