Beginning in 2023, 17-year-olds charged with most crimes will go through rehabilitative programs administered by the Department of Juvenile Justice, instead of being charged as adults.
17-year-olds cannot vote or join the military. They cannot work a full-time job. They cannot buy tobacco or alcohol. In Georgia, however, 17-year-olds who break the law can go through the criminal courts, ending up with a permanent criminal record and perhaps even a prison sentence. Georgia, Texas, and Wisconsin are the only remaining states in which 16 is the maximum age for going to juvenile court; most states do not charge defendants below the age of 18 as adults. This month, though, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve House Bill 272, which will require the state to charge most 17-year-olds accused of committing crimes as juveniles instead of as adults. If a teenager in your family is being accused of a crime, contact an Atlanta juvenile crimes lawyer.
Charging 17-Year-Olds as Juveniles Will Benefit Teens and Taxpayers in Georgia
Most states automatically charge 17-year-olds as juveniles and 18-year-olds as adults; after Michigan and Missouri adopted this position in the past year, Texas is one of only three states that always treats 17-year-olds as adults when charging them with crimes and imposing sentences. In 2020, more than 13,000 17-year-olds got criminal charges; more than three quarters of these cases were for misdemeanors, but even so, these cases ended up on the teens’ permanent records, where they will remain unless the defendants go through the protracted process of expungement.
Rep. Mandi Ballinger and other lawmakers have long held that this policy is unfairly punitive, and that it would be better to send 17-year-olds accused of crimes through the juvenile justice system, which will serve their needs better. The new policy will go into effect in 2023, so that lawmakers have time to work out budget details related to providing transportation, housing, and other services for 17-year-olds through the Department of Juvenile Justice. When the policy takes effect, some cases involving 17-year-old defendants will still go through the adult criminal courts; these are the cases involving charges of sexual abuse of children, murder, rape, and armed robbery. Some cases related to gang activity will also send 17-year-old defendants to criminal court.
Proponents of the change say that people should not have to live with the lifelong stigma of a criminal record simply because, at age 17, they did something immature, such as stealing, vandalism, or getting into a fistfight. The juvenile courts are set up to provide services to help teens live healthy and productive lives, and 17-year-olds can benefit from these services as much as their younger peers can.
Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyers Help Defendants of All Ages
A criminal defense lawyer can help protect you from having to carry the heavy burden of a criminal record at a young age. Contact the defense lawyers at Ghanayem & Rayasam in Atlanta, Georgia about juvenile criminal defense cases.