The juvenile justice system was first established in the United States in 1899, and spread from state to state shortly after. Georgia established its own system to try minors in court in 1906, and the first court was built in 1911 in Fulton County. Every single county in the state of Georgia now has a juvenile court and the courts are all controlled by a 1971 law known as the juvenile code.
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This code aims to make the courts to be protective of individual minors rather than aim for a harsh punishment. Many believe this is the way to treat minors, but many people believe that the juveniles courts are too soft on delinquents. These same people believe that delinquents should be tried in adult courts. Others argue that children are clearly not adults and that some kids go through a phase of rebellion which simply takes some correcting. In regards to those that believe delinquents should be tried as adults, there actually are instances when the state supreme court can take jurisdiction of the case if the minor is alleged to have committed certain offenses. For example some offenses are crimes that include murder, voluntary manslaughter, and rape. The exception applies when the child is under the age of 13 because these minors are considered to be unable to commit a crime with intent. In other words, the case would go straight to juvenile court if the capital offender is under the age of 13. There are two types of acts that juvenile courts can try minors over. One type is called a delinquent act which is an act that would considered a crime if the individual were to be an adult. The other is a status offense which would not classify as a crime in an adult court.
An example of a status offense would be running away from home. Arrests works differently in the juvenile system compared to the adult court system. For example, if a 15 year old commits a crime and is caught, he or she is considered to be taken into custody rather than arrested. This allows the minor to legally claim that he or she has never been arrested before. Very much like adults, juveniles are granted the same rights such as the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. The juvenile system actually takes a lot of factors into account when a minor inadvertently confesses to a crime. Courts consider whether the minor truly understood his or her rights at the time. If an officer is able to get a minor to confess, and the method of interrogation used might be considered. Another factor considered is the whether or not there was an adult present to consult with the minor. If a juvenile is wrongfully interrogated, the juvenile system actually works in favor of the minor. Before 1960, minors in the United States were not given the right to an attorney. The case that changed this was the Gault Case U.S. 1 (1967). This case involved a fifteen year old, Gerald Gault, who was taken into custody for an obscene phone call he made to the next door neighbor. Gault’s parents were not notified that their son was taken into custody, and they were not told the nature of the offense. The problem ensued when Gault was found guilty with no lawyers present in his defense. Because Gault was only a fifteen year old child and ordered to attend reform school until the age of 21, the unserd case was appealed, and the United States Supreme Court held that juveniles in danger of losing their liberty have several rights (JJS). The process of bringing a minor into the juvenile justice system has a couple of key steps.
The first step of the process is called intake, and this is when the youth is turned over to an intake officer of the juvenile court (JJS). The intake officer then has two important decisions to make before the next step. The first of these decisions is whether or not there is is sufficient amount of evidence to back up the charges. The next decision is whether the youth needs to be detained for his or her own safety. There are various reasons as to why a minors would be detained, and the main reason is to prevent them from running away. When parents do not want their child at home or are clearly unfit to care for their child, the officer would order the child to be detained. Where the minor stays during the detention period depends on if it was a delinquent act or a status offense. Alleged delinquents are sent to the state’s Regional Youth Detention Centers, and status offenders are sent to shelter-care facilities where non delinquents can stay until arrangements are made (JJS). This paper is going to take a deeper dive into the three main types of cases that go through the juvenile justice system; dependency cases, delinquency cases, and status offense cases are the three main topics that will be discussed. When a child is found in an environment in which they are being abused, neglected, or faced with any form of mistreatment while in the care of their own parents, they can eventually find themselves in the juvenile dependency system. Across the United States there are millions of reports of child maltreatment and many of these cases are not investigated deeply due to insufficient evidence; however, about 58% of the cases reported are left for further investigation (Cleveland).
Around three quarters of the cases that are presented involve neglect, while a smaller number involve physical or sexual abuse, which make up about a quarter of all cases reported (Cleveland). After investigating these cases some families may be given in-home services from the Child Protective Services. If, after investigating, it is to be believed that the child’s safety and wellbeing seems to be at risk, the Child Protective Services will submit a petition to refer the child to the juvenile dependency system. After a dependency case has been filed, the child is removed from their home and placed in an out-of-house temporary placement. If an alleged dependent child is not returned to their home after being removed, an initial hearing, known as a preliminary protective hearing, is held within 72 hours after the dependent child is placed into foster care (2017 Georgia Code). During this hearing there are several participants which include: the dependents legal guardians and their attorney (or attorneys), the child’s Guardian Ad Litem (if one has been appointed), and the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) case worker and their attorney. The determination during this hearing includes whether or not there is reason to believe the child is a dependent child and if protective custody is needed so that abuse or neglect are not further experienced. If these are not found, then the child is placed back into the custody of their parents or legal guardians and the case is dismissed. If these are found, then the child may be placed in DFCS temporary custody pending the hearing on the dependency petition.
Following this, the case will then lead into an adjudicatory hearing which is the fact finding and evidence phase of juvenile dependency cases. The Adjuratory phase can happen the same day as the disposition phase in some cases and may be done in one hearing. Between the Adjudicatory hearing and the disposition, the dependency ruling is determined on whether or not the child needs to be put into care or returned back to their parents. From this, the decision is made on what the case plan is for the child, which could include being giving custody to the parents, relative, 3rd party or DFCS, working towards reunification, or to caring on with a case plan involving non-reunification. Following the plans for reunification or non-reunification are in-court reviews, periodic reviews, and permanency plan hearings as well as the determination of the need of Termination of Parental Rights (Brownley). In the state of Georgia each dependent child that enters the court for a juvenile dependency hearing is given a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) who will represent the child in court as stated in the GA Code ?§ 15-11-104 (2017 Georgia Code). The job for the GAL is to represent the child’s desires and to advocate for the child’s best interest. If for any reason there is a conflict of interest between the GAL and the dependent child, the GAL will then step down and serve only as the child’s attorney and a new GAL will be appointed to represent the child. In some cases, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) will be appointed in sub for Guardian Ad Litem, and for some cases a CASA will be appointed to serve alongside an attorney that is serving as the GAL.
For the most part, GALs conduct interviews with the parents and children, make sure the right services are provided by looking over cases, and making recommendations to the court that ultimately influence and dictate what is talked about and decided in the courtroom. Depending on whether or not the dependency case is a state or private filed case, the GAL will either have to go out and research on their own or work with a case worker from DFCS. In both situations there are complications and challenges. It is expected of the caseworker to interview family members, friends, teachers, and anyone involved in the child’s life to get an understanding of the child’s situation. It is up to the case worker to decide on whether or not the home of the child is in is fit to stay in. The overall goal of the caseworker is the child’s safety, permanency, and well-being (Phillips). For the GAL, they try to accomplish what’s in the best interest of the child, and sometimes that can clash with what the caseworker feels is what’s best for the child. What makes matters even more complicated are that CAPTA (1974) fails to elaborate best interests of the child (Phillips), and, because of this, in some cases the case worker and GAL’s relationship can complicate cases. Not only does this happen, but what also complicates things are the constant changes of case workers for a child and that not all the case workers are of the same quality. As stated by Derek Brownley, Social work is tough work, their pay is low and many of the good ones get over worked and burnt out (Brownley). For private cases the GAL must act as both the attorney and the case worker having to do all the duties of the case worker on their own, in the harder cases this is where a CASA will be assigned as well to help alleviate some of the workload.
Juvenile delinquency cases involve minors who have allegedly committed crimes. This is to say that if the minor had been an adult the case would have been tried in a regular criminal court. It is important to note the the procedures of juvenile court are vastly different from that of adult criminal court. All states have specialized court systems specific for juveniles who are accused of committing offense that violate the law. Ultimately juveniles are found to be either not guilt or delinquent of the law a much different determination than in adult criminal court.In the same fashion as adult criminal court proceedings, juvenile court proceedings include participants such as police officers, prosecutors, and judges. Procedures for juvenile delinquency cases vary from state to state; however, the process of a typical juvenile delinquency case is typical in nature. The first contact, usually, with the minor is a police officer or law enforcement official. According to Officer Guiden, a law enforcement officer for the city of Atlanta, who post at the Georgia State campus, police officers may decide to deal with juveniles in a number of ways when alleged to have violated a criminal statute. Although Georgia state University, is attended primarily by legal adults, in some of his encounters and arrets Officer Guiden has had to respond to cases involving students who are minors. He recounts that in some instances a warning is all that was called for in his discretionary opinion. When a warning is issued the minor is informed of their offense, counseled to make sure there is an understanding on abstaining from committing the same violation in the future for their best benefit, and released. This is often referred to as the counseled and released alternative. Second the officer can choose to hold the minor until a custodial agent comes. Police officers have the authority to detain the minor, issue a warning, and then release the minor to a custodial guardian. Third the officer, if deemed necessary and at the officer’s discretion, may refer the minor to juvenile court.
This involves placing the minor in custody, not arrest, and referring the case to the juvenile court system. At this point a prosecutor or intake officer, often a probation officer, initiates either a dismissal of the case, an informal resolution, or formal charges are filed. The latter process is defined as petitioning the case. According to Mrs. Guiden, a probation officer with the fulton county juvenile system, intake officers typically consider several key factors including: severity of the offense, the juveniles age, past record, strength of the evidence in the case, the juvenile’s gender, social history, and most importantly the ability of the minors parents to control his or her behavior. On average 20% of cases are dismissed, 25% are handled informally, and 55% go through formal court proceedings. Informal proceedings still require a court appearance. Typically the minor must appear before a probation officer and/or judge. No formal charges are brought there is usually an informal response or request of the court, such as: a stern lecture, attend counseling, attend after-school classes, repay the victim for damages, pay a fine, community service work, or probation. It is at this time if abuse or neglect is suspected the juvenile courts may initiate removal proceedings from the legal guardian. Formal proceedings or petitioning the court, like adult criminal cases does include an arraignment. This is also known as formal charges are brought forth against the minor. In some instances the minor may be sent to appear in adult criminal court. After arraignment the courts decide whether to detain or release.
Majority of the time the minor is released during the hearing process. The next step involve one of three outcomes: the minor enters a plea agreement, the judge diverts the case, or the judge holds an adjudicatory hearing. Diversion includes the court maintaining jurisdiction over the case while the minor is allowed to complete a recommendation program such as counseling or community service and non completing could include the reinstatement of formal charges. The adjudicatory hearing is much like an adult criminal hearing in which both sides present their case and evidence in a trial. The judge will make a determination as to whether or not the minor is delinquent. Instead of being found guilty, as such is the case in an adult criminal case, the courts sustain the petition. This is followed by the probation office evaluating the minor, ordering a psychological examination or diagnostic tests if necessary, and then make recommendations at the disposition hearing (which is similar to a sentencing hearing in criminal court). The judge then decides what is in the best interest of the juvenile, and may order any number of things as part of the disposition, including: counseling, confinement in a juvenile detention facility, reimbursement of the victim, or probation. The judge may also order the juvenile to appear in court periodically (called post-disposition hearings) so that the judge can monitor the juvenile’s behavior and progress. One of the less severe cases in the juvenile system is the status offense.
This is an offense that would not classify as a crime in the adult court system. The idea behind a status offense is that the specific activity is harmful to minors, and the government should do what they can to prevent minors to do things such as purchase cigarettes. Other examples of some status offenses are truancy and possession and consumption of alcohol. Before the 1960s and 1970s, status offense cases were brought into the juvenile justice system, but now they are diverted to agencies outside the juvenile court’s jurisdiction (FindLaw). This change came about thanks to the 1974 Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act which essentially deinstitutionalized status offenses (FindLaw). This change was introduced because a handful of people believe that status offenses are minor, and these same people believe that juveniles are best off dealing with the situation with either their parents or an agency rather than being processed like adults through the justice system. The juvenile system is comprised of many complexities that vastly different from the adult criminal courts. The main focus of the juvenile system is to rehabilitate and support, were as in the adult criminal courts it is accountability first and rehabilitation (if possible) second. Juveniles are seen as individuals who are still in the development stage of life and need guidance, counsel, and support. Courts do not minimize the need for discipline or punishment but focus on growth. In each stage the courts recognize an aim to nurture and consider the best interest of the minor first.
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