Whether your child faces drug possession charges or charges for vandalism or another offense, you are likely angry about his or her actions, concerned about the future and fearful about potential penalties.

The state juvenile court system distinguishes between delinquent offenses and status offenses. Delinquent crimes are those that are illegal when committed by an adult. Status crimes are illegal only because the person is a minor, such as truancy. Parents must understand the Georgia juvenile justice system and how it processes a child’s case.

The intake process

When law enforcement arrests your child, an intake officer will process his or her case. The parents and/or a criminal defense attorney can be present while authorities question the minor and investigate the offense.

The court has 72 hours to determine if enough evidence exists to charge your child with a crime. If your child does receive a charge, he or she will have a hearing scheduled. In the case of a lack of evidence, the court will dismiss the charge.

The detention process

Your child may have to stay in a juvenile detention facility until his or her hearing date. In general, a judge will order detention if a child poses a danger to others or him or herself and/or is suffering from abuse or neglect at home.

If a judge makes the decision to detain a child, a detention hearing must occur within 72 hours. Most children are not detained.

Case outcomes

After the hearing, the judge can make three possible determinations. He or she may dismiss the case if insufficient evidence exists to prove the child’s guilt. On the other hand, if your child admits to wrongdoing, he or she can receive a sentence of an informal adjustment. The court will oversee the child for three months and may order him or her to attend counseling and/or display improved behavior.

For more serious offenses or cases in which the parents do not agree to an informal adjustment, the case will proceed to a formal hearing and sentencing.