In Georgia, every county has a juvenile court, or a court that deals exclusively with juvenile offenders. A juvenile offender is someone under 17 years old who has been charged with a delinquent act or a status offense.
What is a Delinquent Act?
A delinquent act is not a crime, and if someone under 17 is found to have committed a delinquent act, he or she has not been convicted of any crime. Under Georgia law, a delinquent person is a person under 17 who has committed a delinquent act and is in need of treatment or rehabilitation.
A status offense is an act that would not be a crime if it was committed by someone 17 or older. For example, truancy (habitually skipping school) is a status offense because it only applies to school-age children.
Jurisdiction of Georgia's Juvenile Courts
The juvenile courts in Georgia have jurisdiction over nearly all cases involving people under 17. Jurisdiction means the court has the authority to handle the case, and determine the appropriate sentence. Juvenile courts also handle cases related to children who are abused or neglected; unruly children, truants (children who regularly skip school); and other special cases related to children.
A case begins in Juvenile Court when a prosecuting attorney representing the State of Georgia, files a delinquency complaint that contains a summary of the charges. Once the juvenile court processes the complaint, a hearing is scheduled within a few months.
History of the Juvenile Court System
The concept of a court system designed specifically for children accused of criminal acts dates back to the early 1800s. Prior to the formation of juvenile courts, individuals of any age were subject to the same rules, required to attend the same court, and even jailed in the same facilities. Later, in 1899, United States made great strides in this area with the inception of the first juvenile court, located in Chicago. The State of Georgia quickly followed suit and in 1911, created the first juvenile court in Fulton County.
Each County in Georgia has a Juvenile Court
Every county in Georgia has its own juvenile court. Each court is governed by the same rules located in the Juvenile Code; however, local customs and procedures may vary. For instance, in some counties in Georgia, the parent may be seated alongside their child when they are called to the defense table to stand before the judge. In other counties, the parent must be seated behind the table in the audience, while the attorney is the only individual permitted to sit alongside the child.
Also, in some counties, judges may require a child and their parents to attend each and every court hearing, while some counties permit the child to be excused and allow the attorney to attend certain types of hearings on their behalf.
Lastly, most of the larger counties have a separate, dedicated juvenile courthouse, while many of the smaller counties hold juvenile court in the main Superior Court building. The appointment of juvenile court judges in Georgia is also based on the size of the county. In larger counties, juvenile court judges are appointed to solely handle juvenile cases, while in some smaller counties, judges from the Superior Court may also act as juvenile court judges (thus handling both adult and juvenile cases).
Kathryn Boortz has a passion for working with youth and their families. She is the founder of Boortz Law, a law firm that focuses on juvenile defense.