Georgia Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney
The juvenile justice system deals with young people accused of breaking the law. While the adult criminal justice system punishes crimes, the juvenile justice system is supposed to be focused on rehabilitation—ideally helping juveniles mature, grow and avoid future offenses.
Still, consequences can be steep. If your teen is facing charges, a juvenile defense attorney who is familiar with the complexities of juvenile court can help obtain the best outcome possible.
Understanding the juvenile court process
Some juvenile offenses are considered status offenses. These are issues that are only considered illegal when they’re committed by minors, like truancy, running away or drinking alcohol.
Delinquency offenses are more serious: actions like theft, simple assault or disorderly conduct. When a young person is found to be delinquent, it’s akin to a guilty verdict in an adult case.
There are many outcomes possible in the juvenile justice system, in part because the judge and prosecutors have more leeway than they would in the adult system. Typically, though, the process looks like this:
- A young person commits a delinquent act.
- Law enforcement addresses the behavior, arresting or referring the young person to the juvenile justice system.
- The case is then sent to juvenile court.
- In the most serious offenses, the young person is transferred to the adult court system. Some charges lead to juveniles starting in adult court, though the prosecutor or judge may choose to transfer the juvenile back again.
- If the juvenile was originally arrested, or detained, the judge holds a detention hearing in order to decide if the juvenile should be held in detention or released to family until the disposition in the case.
- The next hearing is an arraignment, where the juvenile is formally provided notice of the charges and rights. The juvenile can admit or deny the charges at this hearing.
- If the juvenile denies the charges at the arraignment, then they will have an adjudication hearing, which is a trial in juvenile court. During the adjudication hearing, the judge decides if the state has proven the young person delinquent or not. There is no jury trial in a juvenile case.
- If a judge finds the juvenile delinquent, a dispositional hearing determines the punishment—probation, detention, community service or other options. This disposition is similar to sentencing in an adult court. The juvenile defense attorney can offer input for a disposition that’s fair and not overly harsh.
While the above is a general overview, different situations could cause different routes than what is outlined above, which is part of the importance of having the aid of an experienced juvenile defense attorney.
Who is charged in juvenile court?
In Georgia, young people are typically treated as juveniles when they’re 16 years old or younger.
There’s a common misconception that juvenile court only handles minor issues, or that juveniles face only minor punishments. In fact, punishments can be quite serious, and they’re decided by the judge without a jury trial.
Depending on the charges, juveniles may be incarcerated, placed on probation, issued fines or ordered to complete community service or attend counseling. In serious cases, they may be committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice. A judge can also order parents to complete tasks; if they fail to do so, they can be jailed for contempt of court.
Are 17-year-olds tried as adults in Georgia?
In Georgia, you’re considered an adult for criminal justice purposes at 17. This often comes as a shock to young people and their families. However, Georgia is still one of only three states where 17-year-olds are automatically charged as adults. (This could change in 2023, though, giving more teens a chance at rehabilitation without a permanent criminal record.)
At Ghanouni Teen & Young Adult Defense Firm, we believe that young people do not deserve to be followed by a criminal record for life.
A strong defense, even when the individual is being tried as an adult, includes a plan to show the court that the young person is not, in fact, fully mature. A criminal defense lawyer will also highlight the teen’s potential for a productive future—and show how a criminal conviction will jeopardize that future.
When do juvenile cases move to the adult criminal justice system?
Depending on a juvenile’s age and the nature of the crime in question, a juvenile may be tried as an adult. For offenses that don’t start in adult court, the juvenile court can make a determination to transfer certain cases to Superior Court, where juveniles will be prosecuted as adults.
For minors between the ages of 13 and 17 charged with certain serious crimes, some cases will automatically start in superior court with the juvenile charged as an adult. These offenses include:
- Murder in the second degree
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Aggravated sodomy
- Aggravated child molestation
- Aggravated sexual battery
- Armed robbery (if committed with a firearm)
- Aggravated assault (if committed with a firearm upon a public safety officer)
- Aggravated battery upon a public safety officer
Sometimes, the district attorney will transfer a case back to the juvenile court. In other cases, a superior court judge will choose to transfer the case.
Because of the significant amount of discretion the District Attorney’s Office has during the filing of charges against children under 17 years of age, it is imperative to retain an attorney who will work to keep the case in juvenile court or negotiate with the DA to have serious cases moved back to juvenile court. Juvenile court is better equipped than the adult criminal justice system to help rehabilitate young people, allowing them to become contributing members of society and successful adults.
When is a juvenile required to have a lawyer?
In some cases, a juvenile may waive the right to counsel, but in serious cases—where serious dispositions are possible—the juvenile is required to have representation. Juvenile laws are different from those in adult court, and not every criminal defense attorney is familiar with them. An experienced juvenile criminal attorney can help:
- Seek to have the case diverted before it goes before a judge
- Move the juvenile out of detention before a hearing occurs, allowing the individual to prepare for the case from the comfort and safety of home
- Keep the case out of the adult courts
- Negotiate fair resolutions with the prosecutor
- Present evidence to the judge to advocate for a disposition that’s fair
- Expunge or seal juvenile records
Our Client Success Commitments
We understand that we see our clients in their most challenging hour. That’s why we like to set out together with an agreement we call Our Client Success Commitments.
- Your goals and future are our focus.
- You will have a plan that focuses on your success.
- You will understand the process.
- You will be prepared for court.
- You will have a team to support you.
With proactive representation, you can ensure that a plan is executed to get the best possible outcome. Our award-winning team has helped over 1,000 people take steps toward protecting their futures. Take the first step toward protecting your or your loved one’s future by contacting our team to see if we can help. We’ll set up a Defense Strategy Meeting so that you can get clarity on your options and we can determine if it makes sense to execute that plan together.
If you need help with a juvenile case, or a case where a juvenile is being charged as an adult, call 770-720-6336 to set up a Defense Strategy Meeting.
We are here to help
If you’re facing a criminal charge and are concerned about the impact on your life, contact us today and schedule a complimentary Defense Strategy Meeting.