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How Does the Georgia Juvenile Court Work?

Established in the state of Georgia in 1911, the Georgia Juvenile court is the trial court responsible for trying cases involving children that are not yet 17 years of age, alleged to have committed a delinquent act, status offense, or traffic offenses. By law, a delinquent act is an offense that would be deemed a crime if committed by an adult. On the other hand, a status offense is one that would not be a crime if committed by an adult.

The Georgia Juvenile court may also retain jurisdiction over youths sentenced by the court as Juveniles until such persons turn 21. However, if the youth commits another offense after turning 17, an adult court handles the subsequent offense. Generally, the Georgia Juvenile court has exclusive original jurisdiction over cases involving children that:

  • Have been accused of being unruly, deprived, delinquent, or in need of treatment due to mental illness or retardation
  • Were placed on probation to the court or under the supervision of the court
  • Have remained in foster care even after turning 18 when the case pertains to the child’s foster care status
  • Receive independent living services from the Department of Family and Children Services after turning 18 when the case is about the child’s independent living plan
  • Needs a comprehensive services plan
  • Violated a Juvenile traffic law

The Juvenile court also has jurisdiction over proceedings:

  • To obtain judicial consent to the employment, marriage, or enlistment of a child in the armed services if the law requires such consent.
  • To become a permanent guardian
  • To terminate the legal parent-child relationship
  • For the termination of the rights of a child’s biological father who is not the child’s legal father according to the law
  • For emancipation

The court has concurrent jurisdiction over:

  • Legitimation petitions relating to a Juvenile alleged to be dependent.
  • Legitimation petitions transferred to the Juvenile court by order of the superior court.
  • Custody and support cases assigned to the court by the superior court’s order provided neither parent has requested a jury trial.
  • Petitions for the termination or establishment of temporary guardianship transferred to the Juvenile court by order of the probate court
  • Criminal cases that have been transferred to the court.

Note, the Georgia superior court may also transfer the question of the determination of support, custody, or both to the Juvenile court when handling alimony, divorce, habeas corpus, and other custody-related cases. This may be for the Georgia Juvenile court to investigate and report back to the superior court or for the court to investigate and determine the case.

Whatever the situation, the Juvenile court may, at any time, while trying the case, send the matter back to the Superior court. Also, when an accused person is in jeopardy of losing parental rights due to criminal charges, the superior court may transfer the case to the Georgia Juvenile court’s family treatment court division.

The court may only do so if the defendant and the prosecuting attorney agrees to the transfer. Note, the Juvenile court has no jurisdiction over cases involving a child accused of committing offenses such as rape, murder, aggravated child molestation, voluntary manslaughter, aggravated sodomy, armed robbery committed with a firearm, and aggravated sexual battery.

According to the law, juveniles who commit such offenses are tried as adults. Therefore, the Superior court has jurisdiction over such crimes. In such cases, the district attorney or Superior court may withdraw the court case and submit it to the Juvenile court after showing the extraordinary reason. However, this does not apply if the crime is a capital offense.

Georgia law does not provide for the capacity to harbor criminal intent in children under 13 years of age. Hence, capital offenses committed by children commit are handled by the Juvenile court. Note, every trial that the Georgia Juvenile court conducts must be without a jury. Aggrieved parties may appeal to the Georgia Juvenile court’s final judgments to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.

There is a Juvenile court in every county in Georgia. The judges of the Georgia Juvenile courts are appointed by the superior court judge of the relevant judicial circuit, except when the local law provides for the judges’ election. The judge has jurisdiction in all the countries within the respective circuit.

In situations where nobody is appointed as a Juvenile court judge, the superior court judge is to take up the duties of a Juvenile court judge in every county in which there is no separate Juvenile court judge within the circuit. On the other hand, where there is more than one Juvenile court judge, one of the judges is designated as presiding judge. To be eligible for the office of Georgia Juvenile court judge, a person must:

  • Be at least 30 years old;
  • Have been a citizen of Georgia for three years;
  • Be a member of the state bar of Georgia; and
  • Have practiced law for at least five years

Note, a Georgia Juvenile court judge serves a term of four years and can be reelected or reappointed. The judge may choose to appoint a part-time or full-time associate Juvenile court judge. The associate judge serves at the pleasure of the judge in all juvenile matters. To be appointed as an associate Juvenile court judge, a person must have the same qualifications as a judge of the Juvenile court.

If a Juvenile court judge is disqualified, ill, or absent, the judge appoints a qualified member of the Georgia State Bar, a judge or senior judge of the Superior court, or any other Juvenile or associate Juvenile court judge to serve in that office temporarily.

The Juvenile court judge and the associate judge can issue a warrant for the arrest of a child alleged to have committed an offense against the State’s laws. The judge may also penalize an adult for contempt of court by a fine not exceeding $1000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty days. The Georgia Juvenile court also has the power to order a guardian, legal custodian, or parent to:

  • Make sure that a child attends school following any law concerning compulsory attendance.
  • Oversee the child’s school assignment and studies after school
  • Attend meetings at the child’s school as requested by the school administrator, teacher, or counselor
  • Provide transportation for the child’s attendance to counseling, programs, and any other service mandated by the court
  • Give guidance and instructions to improve the behavior of the child.
  • Join the child in any treatment or counseling deemed necessary
  • Stop certain people from having contact with the child.
  • Enter and successfully finish a substance abuse program approved by the court

By the Georgia Code § 15–11–708, Georgia Juvenile court records are kept separate from adult case records. Juvenile records are not public records and are therefore inaccessible for inspection or copying to interested persons. However, interested persons eligible to access Georgia Juvenile court records may go to the Office of the Clerk of Court of the relevant Juvenile court.

To find the location of a Juvenile court in Georgia, visit the relevant Juvenile court’s website. For instance, websites of counties like Gwinnett, Cobb, and Clayton each have the contact information of the respective Juvenile courts.

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