Despite not being treated as an adult under Georgia law, at the age of 17 a person is considered an adult for the purposes of criminal law — but a bill in the Georgia House proposes to change that.
At an early morning breakfast with state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, and Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, Floyd County commissioners discussed the proposed changes to the law concerning juvenile code.
House Bill 440 would adjust the juvenile code to classify those accused of a crime under the age of 18 as juveniles. Currently in Georgia, 17-year-olds are treated as adults for the purpose of prosecution, where they go to jail, and where their cases are tried.
The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur.
If this bill were to pass, 17-year-olds would be considered delinquents upon being charged and sent to juvenile court.
Floyd County Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price said Georgia is the last of three states to have this system in place. Price said he supports the bill, and said he attended a juvenile justice committee meeting where the bill was discussed.
The importance of instituting a change comes down to the purpose of each court system.
“The purpose of juvenile court is rehabilitation, not punishment,” Price said. “My main concern is funding and how it would be implemented.”
But he said if the bill makes it into law they’ll need to discuss funding. Floyd County’s current juvenile court is maxed out on staff and space, Price said.
“I have an attorney working out of a closet,” he commented.
In order to adjust the juvenile system to include 17-year-olds, new positions would have to be added to the court system — such as probation officers, clerical positions and judicial positions.
Price explained that because of this the bill has been shot down in the past, such as in 2017.
At Monday’s luncheon, County Manager Jamie McCord spoke in favor of the bill to the legislators and talked about the problem of funding.
“For the bill to pass and do good, it needs funding. There’s no way around that,” he said.
Price commented that the bill will be brought again to Georgia state legislature when the session begins in January.