By: Tom Kirkbride
Recently, I have been inundated with calls concerning juvenile drivers (under 17 years old). I wanted to take a moment to discuss this with the hope that it leads to dialogue with your new driver.
Georgia Juvenile Courts have jurisdiction over all cases involving people under the age of 17. This includes traffic cases. Traffic matters involving people under 17 can be treated in one of two ways. They can be treated as “Juvenile Traffic Offenses” or as “Juvenile Delinquency Offenses.” I will only be addressing Juvenile Traffic Offenses in this article.
Georgia law requires that juvenile traffic cases be heard “separately from other proceedings of the court.” Traffic calendars are informal. In some jurisdictions, non-petitioned traffic cases are not even heard in a courtroom, but in a conference room. Because of the informal nature of the proceedings, it is tempting to treat these juvenile traffic matters as though they have relatively minor consequences. This is a mistake because traffic crimes involving juveniles in Georgia can have real consequences.
If the Juvenile Court finds that a child committed a traffic offense (or the child enters an admission to the charge), the Court may:
- Issue a reprimand or a warning
- Order the Department of Driver Services to suspend the child’s license for up to 12 months
- Require that the child attend a Defensive Driving course approved by DDS
- Require that the child attend a substance abuse clinic, or a program approved by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental disorders for a “reasonable period of time”
- Assess a fine not exceeding the amount an adult could be required to pay for the same offense
- Require the child to complete community service
- Require that the child and/or the parent participate in counseling
- Require the child to obtain a high school diploma or GED
- Place the child on probation
Keep in mind you are never required to plead guilty to charges. They can still deny the allegations and request a hearing on the charges, during which they can subpoena witnesses, present evidence, and cross-examine witnesses.
License Suspensions following Juvenile Traffic Cases
For some offenses involving juveniles, it is possible to simply pay the fine listed on the ticket just like one could do in an adult traffic case. In a Georgia juvenile traffic case, however, this is not advisable. Merely paying the ticket results in the ticket being submitted to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, which then assesses points on the juvenile driver’s license. Many parents are unaware of that and merely pay their child’s ticket. They are then shocked when they get a notice in the mail that their child’s license is suspended. It is challenging to undo this once it is done. This is not to say that going to court on the offense will necessarily save the child’s license, because the same license penalties apply if a child is adjudicated on the charges by a juvenile court judge. Going to court does, however, provide an opportunity to ask the judge for alternative options. It also provides you or your attorney an opportunity to negotiate a better option with the state.