Currently, if someone who is 17 is charged with a crime, he or she is tried in state court as an adult. But House Juvenile Justice Committee Chairwoman Mandi Ballinger said Georgia should allow those teens to go through the juvenile court system. Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin are the only states that charge those over 16 years old as adults.
House Bill 440, sponsored by Ballinger, would allow cases involving 17-year-olds to be handled in the juvenile justice system. Supporters of the legislation say it would keep those under 18 out of state prisons and give them more access to services to keep them from offending again.
A 1994 law allows courts to charge Georgia teens between 13 and 17 as adults if they commit certain offenses — murder, rape, voluntary manslaughter, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated child molestation and robbery with a firearm. Ballinger’s proposal would not change that.
Ballinger, a Canton Republican, said 17-year-olds are best served in juvenile court, where they can get access to services that address underlying issues such as mental health, substance abuse and anger management.
But representatives of Georgia’s law enforcement groups told lawmakers that 17-year-olds should continue to go through the adult court system.
“One of the things that I hear repeatedly from sheriffs is this: These 17-year-olds fail to benefit from the juvenile system,” said Terry Norris, the executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association. “Not from the failure of the system itself, necessarily. But they chose not to learn from their mistakes.”