Under Georgia criminal law, minors are defined as children under the age of 17 at the time a criminal act is committed, whether it is delinquent conduct or traffic violations. While minors under 17 can be held criminally responsible as an adult in limited circumstances, a vast majority of these cases go through the juvenile justice system, or juvenile court. The Forsyth County Juvenile Court is currently comprised of two judges, along with a full-time assistant district attorney responsible for filing and disposing of all cases involving delinquent conduct or traffic violations.
What is a Petition and Summons and Process in Juvenile Court?
A Petition is the formal legal document filed by the State of Georgia, through the district attorney’s office, that lays out the allegations against a child. The Petition will specify what section of Georgia law has been violated and give some insight as to how the law has allegedly been violated by the child. This document is not a comprehensive report that lays out each fact, but rather, it is a succinct version of the facts and law at play. The Petition is a sworn document, meaning the assistant district attorney has verified the contents of the Petition to be true, to the best of their knowledge. You do not need to reply in writing to a Petition against a minor, but rather you must show in court to defend against the allegations.
The Summons and Process is the legal paperwork that directs you and your child to appear in the juvenile court on a specific date and time to answer the allegations against your child. This first hearing is generally an arraignment hearing, where a child has the right to plead guilty, not guilty, or the parties may announce a proposed resolution that involves other action. A child has the right to an attorney, whether a privately hired attorney or court appointed attorney, depending on the financial ability of the parents and child. If a court appointed attorney is being requested, it is a good idea to contact the court ahead of the scheduled hearing to begin the application process.
Juvenile Court Arraignments
At arraignment, your child may plead guilty or not guilty to the allegations laid out in the Petition. If a guilty plea is entered, the Court will hear from both sides in deciding what conditions are appropriate, given the nature of the allegations. Additionally, often your child’s counsel will have an opportunity to speak with the court’s prosecutor before the arraignment and work towards a negotiated resolution. These resolutions usually include some combination of supervision by the Department of Juvenile Justice, counseling or therapy, behavioral evaluations (if appropriate), drug testing, and timelines to fulfill these goals and conditions. In cases involving traffic violations, the prosecutor may also seek a license or driving permit to be held by the court for a period, while a child is under supervision.
A child also has the right to enter a not guilty plea and have a trial before the juvenile court judge. A trial would allow the child to exercise the same rights as any other citizen of the U.S. and the prosecutor would bear the burden of proving their allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. A child could testify or remain silent in this trial, could use the court’s subpoena power to compel witnesses to attend court on their behalf, and is entitled to an attorney to assist them throughout the proceedings. If the prosecutor is unable to meet their burden of proof, the child would be excused from any further obligation to the court. If the prosecutor does meet their burden of proof and the child is found to be delinquent or in violation of the alleged traffic laws, the judge would have final authority in crafting a sentence in the case.
What is an Informal Adjustment?
A juvenile court prosecutor does have the authority to enter an “informal adjustment” of a child’s case. The best way to describe this informal adjustment process is that it is very similar to what Georgia criminal courts refer to as pretrial diversion. The prosecutor and defense attorney generally negotiate terms and conditions, which can include everything listed above (supervision, drug testing, counseling, license or permit consequences, etc.) and if the child is successful in following through with the conditions, the case is then dismissed. If available, an informal adjustment is oftentimes the most preferred method of resolving the allegations against a child since it gives guarantees and assurances of the outcome and an eventual dismissal of the charges. Timelines for informal adjustment are flexible and negotiable, up to 12-months.
Why Zeliff | Watson for My Child’s Juvenile Court Defense?
At Zeliff | Watson, our team of attorneys devote 100% of their practice to defending those charged with crimes against the State of Georgia. Our trial team regularly appears before all Forsyth County courts, including the juvenile court. From our first meeting with you and your child, we will begin working on our defense and prepare you for the upcoming process. Our team handles all juvenile court allegations from traffic citations to serious allegations and have the experience to ensure the best outcome is obtained. If your child is facing charges in juvenile court, give us a call today to discuss the next steps and how we can help defend your child’s case.