Designated Felonies in Georgia Juvenile Courts
In Georgia juvenile courts, the vast majority of offenses are either felonies or misdemeanors. These are the same categories used in all of Georgia's criminal courts. There are some offenses, however, that the Georgia Legislature deems particularly grave. These are called Designated Felony charges, and they are the most severe charges heard in Georgia juvenile courts. They are broken down into Class A Designated Felonies and Class B Designated Felonies, with Class A being the more serious of the two. To be charged with a Designated Felony offense in Georgia, a child must be at least 13 years old.
Class A Designated Felonies
Class A Designated Felonies are deemed to be the more serious of Georgia's Designated Felony offenses. They include:
- Aggravated assault with any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in strangulation,
- Aggravated assault with intent to murder, to rape, or to rob,
- Aggravated assault by discharging a firearm from within a motor vehicle toward a person or persons other than a law enforcement officer,
- Aggravated assault against a person who is 65 years of age or older,
- Aggravated assault involving the use of a firearm upon a student or teacher or other school personnel within a school safety zone,
- Aggravated assault upon an officer of the court while such officer is engaged in, or on account of the performance of, his or her official duties,
- Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon or with any object, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, actually does result in serious bodily injury, provided the deadly weapon is not a firearm and that the injured person is not a law enforcement officer,
- Aggravated battery against any person other than a law enforcement officer,
- Armed robbery not involving a firearm,
- Arson in the first degree,
- Attempted murder,
- Escape, if the child has previously been adjudicated for a Class A or Class B Designated Felony,
- Hijacking a motor vehicle in the first degree,
- Home invasion in the first degree,
- Participating in criminal gang activity,
- Trafficking of controlled substances,
- Any other act which would be a violent felony, if such child has previously been adjudicated three times on felony charges,
- Any other act which would be a felony offense, if such child has previously been adjudicated three times on violent felony charges.
Additionally, there are offenses commonly known as the “Seven Deadlies” (although there are now nine). These offenses are considered so severe that the Superior Court has original jurisdiction, meaning that, if a child over 13 is charged with one of these offenses, he or she will automatically be treated as an adult and brought before a Superior Court. The District Attorney can decline to indict the case, resulting in a transfer of the case to Juvenile Court, or may fail to obtain an indictment within 180 days. Alternatively, a Georgia Juvenile Court Attorney can file and argue a discretionary transfer motion asking the Superior Court to transfer the case down to the Juvenile Court. If any of these scenarios occurs, the case is transferred down to Juvenile Court. Cases transferred to Juvenile Court from Superior Court are treated as Class A Designated Felonies.
Class B Designated Felonies
Class B Designated Felonies, while slightly less intense than Class A's, are still something to be taken extremely seriously. They include:
- Aggravated assault in a public transit vehicle or station,
- Aggravated assault during the commission of a certain kind of theft,
- Aggravated assault with intent to rape a child under 14,
- Aggravated assault involving a deadly weapon or with any instrument which, when used offensively against a person, would be likely to result in serious bodily injury but which did not actually result in serious bodily injury,
- Arson in the second degree,
- Attempted kidnapping,
- Battery, where the victim is a teacher or other school personnel,
- Home invasion in the second degree,
- Participation in criminal gang activity through the commission of criminal trespass or damage to property damage related to tagging, marking, painting, or creating any form of graffiti,
- Smash and grab burglary,
- Possessing, manufacturing, transporting, possessing with the intent to distribute, or offering to create a destructive device,
- Distribution of a destructive device, explosive, poison gas, or detonator to any person under 21 years old,
- A second or subsequent theft of a motor vehicle,
- A second or subsequent charge of manufacturing, possessing, transporting, distributing, or using a hoax device or replica of a destructive device or detonator with the intent to cause another to believe that such hoax device or replica is a destructive device or detonator,
- A second or subsequent charge of hindering or obstructing any explosive ordnance technician, law enforcement officer, fire official, emergency management official, animal trained to detect destructive devices, or any robot or mechanical device designed or utilized by a law enforcement officer, fire official, or emergency management official of this state or of the United States in the detection, disarming, or destruction of a destructive device,
- A second or subsequent charge of possession of a handgun under the age of 18,
- Possession of a firearm on school grounds,
- Possession of a weapon on school grounds, coupled with an assault,
- A second or subsequent charge of possession of a non-firearm weapon on school grounds,
- Any other act which would be a felony, if the child has three prior felony adjudications.
An important note about prior adjudications
Both Class A and Class B Designated Felonies include among them provisions for repeat offenders. For example, the commission of “any act that would be a violent felony” is considered a Class A Designated Felony, if the child has previously been adjudicated three times on felony charges. The prior adjudications may not be part of the same case. They must be separate and distinct adjudications and not part of the “same transaction” or “arising out of the same set of facts” as the offense alleged to be a designated felony. In re P.R., 282 Ga.App. 480, 638 S.E.2d 898 (2006). This is true even if the prosecution petitions the charges separately.
Furthermore, in Georgia, a child has a right to counsel any time he or she appears before a Georgia juvenile court. If a child is charged with a Designated Felony in Georgia based on prior adjudications was unrepresented at a prior adjudication, this may pose problems for the State. For example, in In re S.M., 322 Ga.App. 678, 745 S.E.2d 863 (2013), the Georgia Court of Appeals found that the juvenile did not “knowingly and voluntarily” waive his right to counsel at his prior delinquency adjudication, and thus the prior adjudication could not be used to adjudicate him as a designated felon.
I only bring these two points up to illustrate how important it is to hire an experienced Georgia Designated Felony Attorney for their juvenile case. Prosecutors in these cases take them very seriously, and sometimes it seems as though they want to punish a child as harshly as possible, even if they have to bend the rules a bit in order to do so. These rules are unique to Juvenile Court, so an attorney who only handles adult cases will not know to check and make sure that everything is being done according to the law.
Dispositions in Designated Felony Juvenile Cases in General
A disposition is the juvenile court equivalent to a sentence in adult court. Once a child is adjudicated on a Georgia Designated Felony case, the Juvenile Court must enter an order of disposition within 20 days. While Juvenile Court is charged with acting in the best interests of the child and with the purpose of rehabilitating rather than punishing a child, in Designated Felony cases the judge must also take into account “the protection of the community.”
Designated Felony orders must include a finding of whether a child requires placement in restrictive custody. In general, the Court is required to consider and make specific findings regarding:
- The age and maturity of the child,
- The needs and best interests of the child,
- The record, background, and risk level of the child as calculated by a risk assessment,
- The nature and circumstances of the offense, including whether any injury resulted and the level of culpability of the child in carrying out the offense,
- The need for protection of the community,
- The age and physical condition of the victim.
In making determinations on these grounds, the judge may consider almost any type of evidence that may shed light on the child's needs and background, including, but not limited to:
- Character witnesses,
- School records,
- Medical records,
- Testimony from experts (psychologists/psychiatrists/social workers, etc.),
- Testimony from the child's parents, and
- A victim impact statement.
Based on this evidence, the judge then decides, based on a preponderance of the evidence, whether the child requires placement in restrictive custody. If the judge finds that restrictive custody is not necessary, he or she may order:
- Counseling services for the child and/or the parent;
- That the child obtain a high school diploma or GED;
- Community Service;
- A fine; and/or
- Suspension of the child's driver's license.
- Placement of the child in an institution, camp, or another facility for delinquent children;
- Commitment to the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice;
- Placement in a Georgia Juvenile Detention Center for up to 30 days (with credit for any time served at the time of arrest).
Dispositions in Class A Designated Felony Cases
If a child is adjudicated delinquent on a Class A Designated Felony case and the judge finds that the child does require placement in restrictive custody, the child is placed in DJJ custody for an initial period of up to 60 months. The judge also orders a specific period of incarceration in a secure residential facility, which may be up to 60 months or 5 years. If the judge orders a period of incarceration that is less than 5 years, the child is required to be placed on intensive supervision after his or her release from restrictive custody, for up to 12 months.
Dispositions in Class B Designated Felony Cases
When a child is adjudicated on a Class B Designated Felony in Georgia, and the judge finds that placement in restrictive custody is necessary, the child is placed in DJJ custody for an initial period of 36 months. The judge may also order that up to 18 months of this time be served in restrictive custody. Based on the risk level of the child, as determined by the Department of Juvenile Justice, some juveniles may be eligible to “step down” to a less secure residential facility after a period of time in restrictive custody.
In sum, Designated Felony cases in Georgia are extremely serious and can derail a child's entire life. A child who is sent to a juvenile detention center loses out on educational and social opportunities and, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to spend his or her teenage years with his or her family. He or she misses out on many of the important developmental milestones in a teenager's life. This can have an effect that lasts well beyond the period of incarceration.
If your child has been charged with a Designated Felony offense in Georgia don't hesitate. Time really is of the essence in juvenile courts, because cases move extremely quickly. Contact a Georgia Designated Felony Attorney immediately.