When Can a Juvenile Be Charged in Adult Court?

When determining which court a young person will face charges in, 13 and 17 are the two key ages in this area. As a matter of law in Georgia, children under 13 cannot form criminal intent in their minds (the mens rea). Theoretically, children under 13 could be charged with a regulatory offense, such as DUI, in adult court. These offenses have no mens rea requirement. However, that has never happened in Georgia, and it probably never will happen.

Children under 13 are never found guilty of a crime in Georgia, even in juvenile court. Instead, they are unruly or delinquent. Unruly children need rehabilitation, treatment, or supervision. Courts usually enter such declarations in property crimes or offenses like curfew violations. Delinquency in juvenile court is the equivalent of “guilty” in adult court. However, delinquency verdicts don’t have the same legal effect as guilty verdicts.

Children over 17 are automatically tried as adults in Georgia. If convicted and sentenced to jail or prison, they serve this time in an adult facility. As of October 2022, lawmakers are considering legislation that would raise the minimum age to 18.

The same criminal laws apply in juvenile and adult courts. So, whether the case is a juvenile or adult case, a defendant needs a Norcross criminal defense lawyer. Contrary to popular myth, juvenile unruly/delinquent convictions do not automatically drop off the person’s record when the individual turns 18. An attorney needs to fight for these defendants at the time they face charges.

Mandatory Transfer

If a child over 13 commits a certain offense, the juvenile court must transfer the case to adult court, regardless of the circumstances. The listed offenses are:

Most of these offenses are specific intent crimes. The defendant must intend the conduct as well as the result. As a matter of science, children with underdeveloped brains usually cannot formulate this intent. As a matter of law, they can. Brain development is only a defense if the defendant had a mental defect or disease.

Discretionary Transfer

Children between 13 and 17 are subject to discretionary transfer if, in the opinion of the court, the best interests of the juvenile and the community require it. Additionally, the juvenile must not need confinement in a mental institution and the court must affirmatively find that there’s probable cause to believe the child committed the crime. The legal presumption in favor of transfer is stronger if the child is over 15.

The “best interests” standard is very broad. As a rule of thumb, the younger the juvenile is, the easier it is for a Norcross criminal defense lawyer to convince a judge the case should stay in juvenile court. Other factors, such as the juvenile’s criminal record and the facts of the case, come into play as well.

Similarly, there is no precise definition of “probable cause.” This legal standard is somewhere between reasonable suspicion, which is an evidence-based hunch, and beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the guilt/innocence standard.

Count on a Dedicated Gwinnett County Juvenile Defense Lawyer

Children as young as 13 could be tried as adults in Georgia. For a free consultation with an experienced Norcross criminal defense lawyer, contact Zimmerman & Associates, Attorneys at Law. We routinely handle matters throughout the Peachtree State.