Marijuana Cases in Georgia Juvenile Courts

Marijuana Cases in Georgia Juvenile Courts

While marijuana use has become more socially acceptable in recent years, possession of marijuana in Georgia remains illegal.  Because of the cultural shift in attitudes about marijuana, it is tempting to think of a marijuana possession charge as “no big deal,” especially in Georgia Juvenile Court.  This is a mistake. 

While it certainly is possible for a skilled Georgia Juvenile Court Attorney to attain a very good outcome for your child in a Georgia juvenile court possession of marijuana case, a favorable outcome should not be taken for granted.  I have seen many juvenile court cases where juveniles charged with marijuana possession charges have ended up with worse outcomes than adults facing similar charges.

Possession of Marijuana Less than One Ounce in Georgia Juvenile Cases

Possession of marijuana in Georgia can be classified as a misdemeanor or as a felony, depending on the amount of marijuana possessed.  There are two major statutes under Georgia law that cover possession of marijuana. 

The first is O.C.G.A. § 16-13-2, which states that, in general:

“any person who is charged with possession of marijuana, which possession is of one ounce or less, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punished by imprisonment for a period not to exceed 12 months or a fine not to exceed $1,000.00, or both, or public works not to exceed 12 months.” 

While the sentencing options are built into the statute, these apply only in adult cases.  Therefore, the only relevant portion of this statute to a Georgia Juvenile Court case is the part that classifies possession of less than one ounce of marijuana as a misdemeanor.  Misdemeanors are less serious than felony offenses.  That is not to say, however, that adjudications on misdemeanor charges cannot result in serious consequences for juveniles.  Even in misdemeanor cases, judges have a great deal of discretion.  Per O.C.G.A. § 15-11-601, in most Georgia Juvenile Court misdemeanor marijuana cases, a judge may order:

  • Probation, which may be supervised or unsupervised;
  • Counseling for the child and/or the parents;
  • Completion of a high school diploma or GED program;
  • Community service; and/or
  • Suspension of your child's driver's license, which may last until your child's 18th birthday, or prevention of your child's ability to get a driver's license until his or her 18th birthday.

Judges may order one or several of these conditions.  It is very common for a child to be placed on probation and also ordered to participate in counseling and community service.  If the child has sufficient delinquent history, including at least one felony offense, the child may be committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice or sent to a juvenile detention facility for up to 30 days.

While probation may not seem overly intrusive, in reality it can be incredibly burdensome on families, and may result in court supervision long after the initial period of supervision ordered by the judge.  Juvenile probation works differently than adult probation.  For example, if a child is placed on probation for 12 months, and he or she gets in trouble in school during the 11th month of supervision, the judge may, pursuant to a Violation of Probation (VOP), extend the child's probation for another year.  The judge may also impose additional conditions of probation.

Probation does not have to be inevitable, though.  Depending on the Georgia Juvenile Court that is hearing your child's case, your Georgia juvenile marijuana attorney may be able to negotiate an outcome that results in dismissal of the charges without an adjudication of guilt.  Different courts have different vocabulary to describe this option – some may refer to it as an informal adjustment, an abeyance, or diversion.  Whether this option is available to your child depends on his or her record and behavior, and the attitudes in the particular jurisdiction regarding marijuana possession cases.  A Georgia Juvenile Court Attorney who understands juvenile court and knows the prosecutors and judges in the varying jurisdictions is best able to assess your child's case and determine whether one of these options is likely to be on the table, and to advocate for it on your child's behalf.

Possession of More than One Ounce of Marijuana in Georgia Juvenile Cases

The second Georgia statute that deals with the possession of marijuana is O.C.G.A. § 16-13-30.  This statute deals with possession of more than one ounce of marijuana, as well as distribution offenses and possession with intent to distribute.  For adults, the penalties for possession depend on the amount of marijuana the person possesses, and mandatory minimum penalties are increased for greater amounts.  For juveniles, the amount of marijuana possessed matters a bit less – it is simply classified as a felony. 

For most felony offenses in Georgia Juvenile Courts, judges may order:

  • Probation, which may be supervised or unsupervised;
  • Counseling for the child and/or the parents;
  • Completion of a high school diploma or GED program;
  • Community service; and/or
  • Suspension of your child's driver's license, which may last until your child's 18th birthday, or prevention of your child's ability to get a driver's license until his or her 18th birthday.

Note that these are the same disposition options that judges have in misdemeanor cases, discussed above.  However, in felony cases judges may also order:

  • Placement in an institution, camp, or other facility for delinquent children;
  • Commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice; or
  • Up to 30 days in a juvenile detention facility.

Although the stakes are potentially high, if your child is facing a marijuana possession charge in a Georgia Juvenile Court, you should not panic.  There are defenses in marijuana possession cases.  In most criminal cases, defenses are based on all the facts and circumstances surrounding the arrest.  For this reason, it is imperative to discuss these facts with an experienced Georgia juvenile possession of marijuana lawyer

Because police do make mistakes, and no one should be assumed guilty just because they were accused of a crime, there are applicable Georgia Criminal Defenses. One common defense in marijuana cases is that the marijuana was discovered pursuant to a bad search.  The Fourth Amendment generally requires that a warrant supported by probable cause be signed by a judge prior to a search.  However, courts recognize a number of exceptions to this general requirement.  This does not mean, however, that the police can search any location or any person whenever they so choose.  They are still required to meet certain requirements, and the State must prove in court that a search was conducted in a way that passes constitutional muster.  If a search was not properly conducted, the evidence discovered may be subject to suppression.  If this occurs, the State may not use the evidence in court. 

Another possible defense is that the marijuana belonged not to your child, but to someone else.  For example, when drugs are discovered in a vehicle, it is very common for the police to arrest all of the individuals who were in the vehicle at the time of the stop, regardless of their level of knowledge regarding the marijuana located in the car.  These arrests frequently sweep up innocent individuals who were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Contact Us Today

Because judges are given so much discretion, it is absolutely essential to speak with a Georgia juvenile marijuana lawyer before going to court.  It can mean the difference between a diversion and probation, or between probation and incarceration in juvenile detention.  You have the right to know your options, and to have an experienced attorney assess the facts of your child's case.  Contact us today.

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