Georgia Juvenile Court Felony
Felonies in Georgia Juvenile Courts
As teens grow, test limits and assert their independence, many may find themselves in minor trouble—facing discipline issues at school or accumulating traffic tickets. Some teens, though, end up in more serious situations, making decisions that land them in juvenile court facing felony charges.
Juvenile court uses two of the same classifications for charges—misdemeanors and felonies—as the adult criminal justice system. It should come as no surprise that a felony in any court, including juvenile court, is a serious matter. Still, teens and their families sometimes underestimate the juvenile court system. Even more commonly, they miss out on opportunities to improve the juvenile’s outlook—whether that means keeping a serious charge out of adult court, pushing for lesser charges or obtaining a more lenient adjudication from a juvenile court judge.
Juvenile Felony Charges and Designated Felonies in Georgia
It’s important to remember that, in Georgia, anyone who is 17 or older is automatically tried as an adult, whether it’s for a misdemeanor or a felony.
In the juvenile court system, serious felony charges are called designated felonies, and they’re categorized as either Class A or Class B.
Class A designated felonies include violent offenses like aggravated assault with the intent to murder, rape or rob; aggravated assault against an individual 65 or older; home invasion in the first degree; kidnapping; participating in criminal gang activity; hijacking a motor vehicle in the first degree and many others. Repeat offenders may also be subject to Class A designated felony charges for any violent felony.
Class B designated felonies include serious crimes like aggravated assault in a public transit vehicle or station, attempted kidnapping, home invasion in the second degree, smash and grab burglary, robbery and others.
The most serious violent offenses typically bypass the juvenile court system entirely, leading to the juvenile’s trial as an adult. These offenses, which include murder, rape and armed robbery with a firearm, among others, automatically funnel into Superior Court.
In cases like these, where a juvenile faces lengthy prison terms if tried in the adult system, it’s critical to work with an attorney who may be able to move the case back to juvenile court.
The Juvenile Court Process
After an arrest, families often wonder what will happen next for their child. The juvenile justice system tends to move incredibly quickly, making it important to find a juvenile defense attorney who understands how juvenile courts work and which options are available. Felonies heard in juvenile court typically progress somewhat like this:
- The arrest: After being taken into custody by law enforcement, the juvenile is either detained in a juvenile facility or released to the parent or guardian. The severity of the charge, the perceived threat to the public and the likelihood that the juvenile will return to court are all taken into consideration when authorities decide whether the child is detained or released.
- Detention hearing: This is the juvenile’s first appearance before the juvenile court, which only takes place if the juvenile is detained in a juvenile facility. The purpose is to determine whether the juvenile can be released while the case is pending.
- Arraignment hearing: This is a hearing where the juvenile is informed of the formal charges the prosecutor has brought against him or her, the rights the juvenile has, and where the juvenile can enter an admission or denial to the charges.
- Adjudication hearing. Unlike adult courts, there is no jury in a juvenile court hearing. Instead, the prosecutor works to convince the judge that the crime occurred as stated. If the child is in detention, the hearing can’t take place any more than 10 days after 10 days after the prosecutor files a delinquency petition. If the child is home, the hearing must still occur within 60 days of filing the petition, making it crucial to act quickly and begin building a defense.
- Disposition hearing. If the juvenile is found delinquent, the judge determines a sentence geared toward rehabilitation but conscious of the potential threat to the public as well. This may take place immediately after the adjudication.
Class A and Class B designated felonies no longer have mandatory minimum sentences in Georgia, but they do have caps on what a judge may order. For Class A, a judge may place the minor in the Department of Juvenile Justice custody for up to 60 months. He or she may also order the minor to spend any portion of that time incarcerated. For Class B designated felonies, the judge may order the minor placed in Department of Juvenile Justice custody for up to 36 months, 18 of which may be spent in restrictive custody.
If a judge chooses not to order restrictive custody in a felony disposition, he or she may choose other sentencing options, including:
- Community service
- License suspension
While there is leeway available, prosecutors often pursue designated felonies zealously—pushing for the most severe charges and dispositions possible. A juvenile defense attorney understands the options available in the juvenile court system and knows how to advocate for a teen who’s in serious legal trouble.
Speak with an Attorney As Soon As Possible
Juvenile court cases move quickly and can have lifelong consequences. If you or your teen has been charged with a felony, call us at 770-720-6336 for a Defense Strategy Meeting.
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