Superior Court Jurisdiction Over Juveniles
When a child under the age of 17 is charged with having committed a delinquent act, or an act that would be a criminal offense if committed by an adult, that child's case will most likely be handled in one of Georgia's Juvenile Courts. However, there are certain circumstances in which a child under 17 may be tried as an adult in Superior Court. The Offices of Lawson and Berry are experts in the field of juvenile law and are here to assist with your case. The laws in Juvenile Court vary greatly from other courts so it is crucial that you retain a Georgia Juvenile Attorney that is experienced in juvenile law.
If a child between ages 13 and 17 is charged with certain offenses, the Superior Court has exclusive jurisdiction over the case. Although there are now eight of these offenses, many attorneys may still refer to these offenses as the “Seven Deadly Sins” or “Seven Deadlies.” Under O.C.G.A. § 15-11-560, they consist of:
- Murder or murder in the 2nd degree;
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Aggravated sodomy
- Aggravated child molestation
- Aggravated sexual battery
- Armed robbery if committed with a firearm
- Aggravated battery upon a public safety officer
You may also hear these offenses referred to as SB440 offenses – this is because the exclusive jurisdiction statute was passed by the Georgia legislature in 1994 pursuant to Senate Bill 440.
There are three ways that an SB440 case can be transferred to a Georgia Juvenile Court. First, the District Attorney's Office may decline to prosecute the case in Superior Court and transfer the case to the Georgia Juvenile Court in the same county. The law states that at any time before indictment, the District Attorney may, “after investigation and for cause,” decline to prosecute. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-560. Because of this “after investigation and for cause” provision of the law, pre-indictment transfer is something that can, in many cases, be negotiated with the District Attorney's Office. This negotiation absolutely requires a Georgia Juvenile Court attorney and should not be undertaken alone, as this is one of the most crucial steps in an SB440 case. Because a child tried in Superior Court is subject to the same penalties as an adult charged with the same offense, it is always better for a case to be transferred to a Georgia Juvenile Court from Superior Court.
Once the District Attorney's Office declines to prosecute a case, a petition – the official charging document in Georgia Juvenile Courts – must be filed within 72 hours if the child is detained, or within 30 days if the child is not detained. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-560.
Cases transferred by the District Attorney's Office under this provision are required to be charged as Class A Designated Felonies, which are the most serious offenses heard in Georgia Juvenile Courts and carry a maximum of five (5) years in a juvenile detention facility. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-560.
The second way that a juvenile SB440 case may be transferred from Superior Court to Juvenile Court is if the District Attorney's Office fails to obtain an indictment within 180 days. This is an automatic process because if no indictment is obtained, the Superior Court loses jurisdiction. The 180 day time limitation begins to run on the day the child is detained by order of the Superior Court. Sometimes a case is transferred to Juvenile Court under this provision, yet the Juvenile Court prosecutor still attempts to transfer a case back to Superior Court under the Discretionary Transfer provision of the law (see below). However, the Georgia Court of Appeals has stated that this is pointless since any indictment returned by the Superior Court grand jury would be void. In the Interest of C.B., 313 Ga.App. 778, 723 S.E.2d (2012).
Finally, certain SB440 cases may be transferred after indictment. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-560(e). This is only available if a child is charged with voluntary manslaughter, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sexual battery, or aggravated battery upon a school safety officer (and not murder, rape, or armed robbery). Under this provision, the Superior Court (not the District Attorney's Office) must hear evidence and determine, pursuant to the criteria listed in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-562 (discussed below in the Discretionary Transfer Section of this article) whether a case should be transferred back to a Georgia Juvenile Court. The State may appeal the Superior Court judge's decision to transfer a case to juvenile court under this provision. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-560(e)(1). Just like the pre-indictment transfer discussed above, any case transferred by the Superior Court down to Juvenile Court is treated as a Class A Designated Felony. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-560(e)(2).
When a child is alleged to have committed an act which would be punishable by loss of life, imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole, or confinement for life in a penal institution if committed by an adult, the Superior Court and Juvenile Court have concurrent jurisdiction over the case. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-560(a).
In these cases, the State has the discretion to decide whether to charge the child in Superior Court or Juvenile Court, and this decision is not subject to judicial review. State v. Henderson, 281 Ga. 623, 641 S.E.2d 515 (2007). This statutory scheme has been challenged as unconstitutional under the due process, equal protection, and separation of powers clauses of the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions for failing to provide for such review; however, the law has thus far withstood these constitutional challenges and remains in place today. State v. Henderson, 281 Ga. 623, 641 S.E.2d 515 (2007).
In cases where both the Superior and Juvenile courts have jurisdiction, jurisdiction remains with the court that first accepts the case, unless and until formal – and legal – transfer proceedings are completed. Chapman v. State, 259 Ga. 592, 385 S.E.2d 661 (1989). The filing of a juvenile complaint, the document that initiates juvenile court proceedings, is insufficient to vest jurisdiction in the juvenile court. Rather, the petition – the formal charging document in juvenile court – is required to be filed with the juvenile court in order to give the court jurisdiction over the case. State v. Whetstone, 264 Ga. 135, 441 S.E.2d 842 (1994).
The concurrent jurisdiction statute is silent as to an age range; however, O.C.G.A. § 16-3-1 in the Georgia criminal code states that “a person shall not be considered or found guilty of a crime unless he has attained the age of 13 years at the time of the act, omission, or negligence constituting the crime.” The issue of age is considered an affirmative defense – it must be raised by the defendant unless the State's evidence raises the issue. Adams v. State, 288 Ga. 695, 707 S.E.2d 359 (2011).
After a delinquency petition has been filed in juvenile court but prior to an adjudication hearing, a Georgia Juvenile Court may transfer a juvenile case to the Superior Court of the same county. Transfer proceedings may be initiated by the Court's own motion or by the State's motion.
Before a transfer hearing can proceed, the Juvenile Court must first determine:
- Whether there is probable cause to believe that the child committed the alleged offense;
- That the child is not committable to an institution for the developmentally disabled or mentally ill; and
- That the child was either 15 years old at the time of the offense and allegedly committed an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult; OR that the child was 13-14 years old at the time of the offense and the offense is one that is punishable by loss of life or confinement for life, or if the alleged offense is aggravated battery resulting in serious bodily injury who is not a public safety officer. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-561.
Under Georgia law, there are certain procedural protections afforded to juveniles in discretionary transfer proceedings. First, the child must receive adequate notice. Notice must be received at least three days prior to the scheduled transfer hearing. The notice must be in writing and shall contain a statement informing the child that the purpose of the hearing is to determine whether the child shall be tried in Juvenile Court or Superior Court. The child may request a continuance of this hearing, which shall be granted by the court. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-561(b).
Prior to a transfer hearing, a probation officer must prepare a written report containing all available information pertaining to the transfer criteria. This report must be given to all parties and the court no later than 24 hours prior to the hearing. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-562(b).
In addition to this written report, the Juvenile Court must consider:
- The age of such child;
- The seriousness of the alleged offense, especially if personal injury resulted;
- Whether the protection of the community requires transfer of jurisdiction;
- Whether the alleged offense involved violence or was committed in an aggressive or premeditated manner;
- The impact of the alleged offense on the alleged victim, including the permanence of any physical or emotional injury sustained, health care expenses incurred, and lost earnings suffered;
- The culpability of such child including such child's level of planning and participation in the alleged offense;
- Whether the alleged offense is a part of a repetitive pattern of offenses which indicates that such child may be beyond rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system;
- The record and history of such child, including experience with the juvenile justice system, other courts, supervision, commitments to juvenile institutions, and other placements;
- The sophistication and maturity of such child as determined by consideration of his or her home and environmental situation, emotional condition, and pattern of living;
- The program and facilities available to the juvenile court in considering disposition; and
- Whether or not a child can benefit from the treatment or rehabilitative programs available to the juvenile court.
This list, taken directly from O.C.G.A. § 15-11-562, is not exhaustive and the Juvenile Court may look at other facts and circumstances as well. Note that these are the same criteria that Superior Court judges must consider under O.C.G.A. § 15-11-561 in determining whether a case initiated in Superior Court should be transferred down to Juvenile Court.
Transfer hearings may also involve expert witnesses such as child psychologists, forensic interviewers, and crime scene investigators.
If your child is facing the possibility of being tried as an adult in a Georgia Superior Court, it is absolutely essential that you contact an experienced Georgia Juvenile Court Attorney immediately. Call The Law Offices of Richard Lawson or one of our Georgia Juvenile Court Lawyers to schedule a free consultation. Our Georgia Juvenile Court Attorneys are adept at cross-examination of expert witnesses and negotiation with prosecutors – both are necessary skills when it comes to keeping a case in Juvenile Court. Successfully keeping a case in Juvenile Court can mean that a child receives treatment and rehabilitation as opposed to (potentially) years of prison time.
We also understand that this process is overwhelming and frightening. Our Georgia Juvenile Court Lawyers will ensure that you and your child understand all of your options. We are available nights, weekends, holidays, and on short notice. Contact us today.