I don’t know about you, but I decline any personal responsibility for the boneheaded things I did prior to, say, age 23 or so, and about half of the things I did before I was 25. Neurologists back me up – the latest research shows that the part of your brain that is involved with executive function and decision making doesn’t fully develop until your early or mid twenties.
So why, then, can someone be sent to prison for decades for something they did when they were a teenager?
The theory is that they can’t be, and won’t be, for the stupid stuff most people get into, but rather the crimes that have been committed in these cases are so heinous that the need of the community to be protected from the behavior of these teenagers outweighs the teenagers’ need to be able to grow up before paying such dire consequences for their actions. The juvenile court system is focused on treatment and rehabilitation and community based solutions. It isn’t designed to deal with people who are truly dangerous to others.
According to OCGA 15-11-560, if a child is at least 13 years old, and is alleged to commit the following offenses, he will be tried as an adult. The District Attorney’s Office, after investigation and before indictment, can decline prosecution in Superior Court and transfer the case to Juvenile Court, but it is initially filed in Superior Court. After indictment, the superior court can transfer the case to the Juvenile Court. Those offenses are:
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Aggravated Sodomy
- Aggravated Child Molestation
- Aggravated Sexual Battery; and/or
- Armed Robbery, if committed by a firearm.
Bear this in mind: the broad net of this list could potentially include ‘consensual’ sexual activity between teenagers of differing ages.
Cases can go the other way as well. OCGA 15-11-561 allows for a procedure to transfer cases from Juvenile Court to Superior Court upon motion of the District Attorney. In order to do this, the prosecutor must show:
- That there is probable cause to believe that the child committed the offense;
- That the child is not commitable to an institution for the mentally ill or developmentally disabled; and
- That the child was
- At least 15 and the offense was a felony; or
- Was 13 or 14 and the offense carries a punishment of loss of life or confinement for life or committed aggravated battery resulting in serious bodily injury to the victim.
Additionally, the Court has to consider the seriousness of the offense, the child’s prior record, or the welfare of the community.
There is no real agreement on how all of this should be handled, and all sides have very strong opinions. The law changes all the time. As recently as January 25, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana which says (in 50 pages and among other things) that a person can’t get a sentence of life without parole for an offense committed while they were a minor, and anyone who did receive that sentence is eligible for parole at some point. It uses wonderful phrases like “the transient immaturity of youth” and is worth a read if you like high-minded philosophical treatises of interminable length that have a very real impact on the lives of actual people.
This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here.