Comparing Juvenile and Adult Proceedings in Georgia

Georgia’s juvenile justice system dates back to the early 1900s. Instead of trying children as adults, the system recognizes that children and teenagers think and act differently than fully developed adults. It is largely rehabilitative in nature rather than punitive and offers many protections and alternatives adult proceedings do not.


In Georgia, children under the age of 13 will not face prosecution for criminal behavior. The Juvenile Court works exclusively with teens aged 13 to 17. Depending on the nature of the crime, the state may decide to try a teenager as an adult. In these serious criminal cases, the Department of Juvenile Justice will take custody of any convicted child until he or she turns 17. If a teenager is under 17 at the time of the incident, he or she will likely face juvenile proceedings instead of adult ones.


Juvenile proceedings and detention centers take the differences between minors and adults into account. They recognize the brain’s developmental level in juveniles and focus more on keeping teens away from the influence of adult offenders. Some of the most notable differences between juvenile and adult proceedings within the justice system include:

  • The language used. In most cases, the courts refer to the criminal acts of juveniles as “delinquent acts” or “status offenses.” The state refers to convicted offenders as “delinquents” or “unruly children,” not criminals. Juveniles are “taken into custody,” not arrested. These language differences are minor but important. They underscore the difference between a juvenile’s criminal behavior and an adult’s.
  • The court process. Juveniles will not face an arrest, trial, or incarceration in the same way as adults. Instead, they may face:
    • An informal adjustment. A juvenile intake officer may ask a judge for an adjustment period of no more than three months. The judge may only approve an informal adjustment if a child admits guilt, and can extend the period for another three months if necessary. During the adjustment period, the juvenile must comply with recommended activities including counseling, sending apology letters, completing essays, or volunteer work.
    • A formal hearing. While similar to a trial, formal hearings focus on the best interests of the child. The prosecutor will create a case for rehabilitation, while the defense counsel will focus on juvenile rights and defending the child against the accusations. The judge determines evidential rules in individual juvenile cases instead of following strict parameters. As minors, children do not enjoy the same rights as adults and will not receive a jury trial – the judge determines the outcome.

Formal hearings involve both an adjudicatory hearing to determine the validity of the charge and a dispositional hearing to determine the consequences. At the dispositional hearing, much like a sentencing hearing, both parties can present arguments to influence the consequences of the delinquent act.

  • Protections. Juveniles may not receive a trial by jury, but they do receive other protections. The courts must consider confessions carefully – and can only accept a confession if a juvenile knowingly and voluntarily complied with investigators’ requests. The state must use juvenile-friendly interrogation methods and determine if the child actually had the capacity to understand his or her rights at the time of detention.
  • Types of delinquent acts. Juvenile laws consider all crimes as delinquent acts of varying degrees. In addition to criminal behavior, juveniles may face juvenile proceedings if they routinely skip school, disobey parents or guardians, frequent alcohol-selling establishments without an adult, or run away.
  • Detention facilities. Inside juvenile justice detention centers, children receive basic needs, education, protection, training, and health care. While these facilities may not offer comfortable accommodations, they do take an increased interest in rehabilitation when compared to adult correctional facilities.


Juvenile justice exists because minors are developmentally different from adults. The most widely accepted research shows that adolescent brains do not fully develop until a person reaches his or her mid-20s. Teens are impulsive, stress-sensitive, vulnerable to pressure, and abnormally violent when compared to adult counterparts. Furthermore, locking teens up with hardened criminals only increases the likelihood of recidivism. The bottom line is juvenile proceedings offer an opportunity for rehabilitation and a fresh start that adult imprisonment cannot. If your juvenile loved one has been accused or charged with a crime in Georgia, you need the help of a qualified Savannah juvenile crimes defense attorney. Contact Jarrett Maillet J.D., P.C. today to schedule your free initial consultation.