Seventeen-year-olds Now Prosecuted as Juveniles in Georgia

In Georgia, more criminals will now be prosecuted as juveniles. Lawmakers in the Georgia House voted Monday to raise the age limit to 17 for prosecuting young defendants in juvenile court. As reported, House Bill 462 was approved on a vote of 145-22, sending it to the state Senate for further debate.

Georgia has been “one of just three states, along with Texas and Wisconsin, in which 17-year-olds accused of crimes are routinely charged as adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.”  The argument advanced by those wanting to prosecute 17-year-old criminals as juveniles is, allegedly, the stage of brain development.

As stated in the article, “Experts say teenage brains are still developing to full adulthood and they lack the impulse control that older people usually gain.” The article did not indicate whether the brain development, whatever it is, leads to an absence of “impulse control” that overrides the capacity to determine right from wrong. The article did not discuss the relevance of lack of impulse control found in the majority of adult criminals.

The FOX 5 Atlanta article quotes Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, who is chair of the House Juvenile Justice Committee. Ballinger has worked for years to raise the minimum age of adult defendants to 18. Ballinger asserted: “Anyone who has ever known a 17-year-old knows how far from adulthood that 17-year-old is.”

As reported, Ballinger said juvenile courts “have a greater emphasis on rehabilitation that should help ensure that most 17-year-old offenders will never see the inside of a courtroom again.” Ballinger elaborated: “And juvenile court judges can decide cases without giving defendants a permanent criminal record.” In the article, Ballinger did not provide data supporting her premise.

The reporting informs that the changes would “take effect in January 2025 at the soonest, and then only if the state Department of Juvenile Justice receives sufficient state funding to handle the additional caseload and has the space needed for 17-year-old detainees.”

The reporting further informed that the “proposed age change wouldn’t apply to 17-year-olds charged with violent felonies such as murder, rape and armed robbery. Their cases would still be prosecuted in adult courts, which already handle such cases in Georgia for teenagers 13 and older.”

As reported, “Likewise, 17-year-old defendants would still be charged as adults for gang-related crimes, as would those facing their second or subsequent offenses.” Balinger did not explain the logic of these exceptions to her proposed legislation. However, younger teenagers in those situations would still go to juvenile court.

Evidently in support of including young gang members in the beneficial recategorizing to include them as juveniles, Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, questioned Ballinger as to “why those charged with gang crimes would be treated differently than others.” Lilburn inquired: “Do you think that 17-year-olds that are recruited into gangs cannot be rehabilitated?” she asked Ballinger. Ballinger conceded her logic was politically motivated. “Ballinger said she agreed to exclude gang charges and repeat offenders from her proposed changes as a concession to appease concerned prosecutors and law enforcement groups.”

D & B Staff

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