If you are younger than 17 years old, and are being accused of committing a crime, you need to know what to expect in Juvenile Court. Crimes committed by children younger than 17 are called “delinquent acts”. If you are found delinquent, a Juvenile Court judge has the authority to sentence you to confinement and/or supervision until you are 21 years old.
1: Can someone search and interrogate me if I’m younger than 17?
YES. A police officer or other public official (such as a teacher or school principle) may try to search you and your belongings if they claim to have probable cause or some other suspicion.
But being a teenager does not mean you don’t have the right to refuse a search. Be polite but please tell anyone searching your body or belongings that you do not consent to the search. Physically resisting does not help and may in fact may lead to more trouble.
2: Do I have the right to remain silent if I’m younger than 17?
YES. This can be very hard when facing a teacher, principle, or even police officer. However, you can assert your right to remain silent while still being polite. If a police officer or other public official does not respect your right and continues to ask questions, you can politely chose not to speak.
3: Do I have a right to a lawyer if I’m younger than 17?
YES. If you are being detained or questioned you have the right to ask for your lawyer or parent. If you are a parent, it is your responsibility to stop any interrogation or questioning of your child until you have spoken with a Juvenile court defense attorney. One of the biggest mistakes a parent can do in this position is ask their child to “come clean” or “just tell them what they want to know.”
Because your child is facing significant fines, probation supervision and/or confinement, your family should have the benefit of speaking with a lawyer before speaking with the police. An experienced attorney can help a family and child avoid a false admission of guilt, and protect the child from overharsh and unnecessary court ordered supervision and/or detention.
4: If I’m younger than 17, can the police detain me?
YES. Children younger than 17 can be detained and arrested by a police officer. If a child is detained instead of being released to his family, an intake officer in the Juvenile Court will consider whether to dismiss the charges because a lack of evidence or file a formal petition alleging a delinquent act.
When the charges are not dismissed, the intake officer will decide whether to detain the child while his or her case is pending. If the intake officer keeps the child in custody, Juvenile Court must have a detention hearing within 48 hours of the child’s arrest (or within 5 days of the child’s arrest if he or she is being detained because of an arrest warrant).
5: Do I Have a Jury Trial If I’m Accused of Committing a Delinquent Act?
NO. Children in juvenile court don’t have a right to a jury trial. If a petition alleges you have committed a delinquent act an attorney can defend you in a formal hearing known as an adjudicatory hearing. At an adjudicatory hearing your attorney will be able to present evidence and question the evidence of the State. While juvenile court does not include a right to a jury trial, a child still has many of the same rights as an adult to Due Process of the law. The child can confront his accusers, question witnesses, and is presumed innocent unless the State can prove he/she is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
6: Do we have to go through a Juvenile Court hearing if I’m guilty?
NO. Your attorney may be able to negotiate alternative resolutions with the juvenile court judge and prosecutor that do not require an adjudicatory hearing. Other outcomes include an informal adjustment, pre-adjudication diversion, or other forms of counseling and supervision that can help a child avoid being sentenced as a delinquent.
7: Can Juvenile Court send me to prison?
NO. But you can be sentenced to confinement. The Department of Juvenile Justice uses Regional Youth Detention Centers and Youth Development Campuses for youth who are waiting for a court date, or are sentenced to commitment by juvenile court.
If you are found to be delinquent, Juvenile Court will have a sentencing hearing to determine what would be in the best interest of the child. This could include curfew, counseling, and other programs and services provided by juvenile court that will allow you to remain home. Confinement is considered an option of last resort.
8: Why would I be in adult court if I’m younger than 17?
There are two ways children younger than 17 can find themselves in adult court:
- Juvenile Court has the discretion to transfer your case to adult court if they determine you cannot be rehabilitated by the Department of Juvenile Justice.
- Adult Court Has Exclusive Original Jurisdiction for the Following Charges: murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sexual battery, or armed robbery committed with a firearm.
9: If I am found to have committed a delinquent act, will that be on my permanent record?
NO. A delinquent act is not classified as a crime or conviction and it will not show up on a criminal background check. However, delinquent acts will be available for review by the courts or law enforcement if you are ever charged with a crime in the future.
10: Can the police find deleted posts of my girlfriend/boyfriend on Snapchat?
YES. Snapchat can be forced to share their records with the police. This would include your account information and information about deleted snaps. Storing, sharing, and even receiving nude images or images of underage people kissing (even if consensual) can be considered a crime and a delinquent act.
If you have more questions about the juvenille court system in Georgia, contact us today at (404) 445-8443.