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Unofficial Opinion 95-8

Unofficial Opinion 95-8

April 17, 1995
To: 

Judge, Magistrate Court
of Meriwether County and Sheriff, Meriwether County and Clerk, Superior Court of Meriwether County

Re: 

Court records concerning juveniles should be afforded the same treatment as any other superior court records when the superior court retains exclusive jurisdiction over a case involving a juvenile thirteen to seventeen years of age who is accused of committing any of the seven offenses specified in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5(b)(2)(A).

This is in response to your request for an opinion concerning the treatment of records of juveniles thirteen to seventeen years of age who are prosecuted as adults for certain statutorily defined offenses. As you cited in your letter to this office, O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5 governs the juvenile court's criminal jurisdiction. This Section provides that the juvenile court shall have concurrent jurisdiction over any child "who is alleged to have committed a delinquent act which would be considered a crime if tried in a superior court and for which the child may be punished by loss of life, imprisonment for life without possibility of parole, or confinement for life in a penal institution." O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5(b). Juvenile court records are open to inspection only upon an order of the juvenile court, O.C.G.A. § 15-11-58, and law enforcement records concerning a juvenile "shall not be open to public inspection nor shall their contents be disclosed to the public," O.C.G.A. § 15-11-59(b), unless a charge of delinquency is transferred for criminal prosecution pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 15-11-39.

Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 15-11-39 provides for the transfer of a delinquency charge to the appropriate court having jurisdiction of the matter and termination of the juvenile court proceeding. This provision, however, does not apply to those proceedings within the exclusive jurisdiction of the superior court. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-39(f). The superior court has exclusive jurisdiction over any matter concerning a child thirteen to seventeen years of age who is accused of committing murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sexual battery, or armed robbery if committed with a firearm. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5(b)(2)(A).

All superior court records are public and are available for public inspection, unless public access is limited by statute or by the Uniform Rules for the Superior Courts. (Uniform Rules for the Superior Courts, Rule 21). While the superior court has exclusive jurisdiction over any case involving a juvenile who is alleged to have committed any of the seven offenses specified in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5, such cases can be transferred to the juvenile court before indictment by the district attorney or by the superior court after indictment. O.C.G.A. §§ 15-11-5(b)(2)(B) and (C). Until a final decision is made with regard to the possible transfer of the case to juvenile court, the records and files concerning the juvenile would not be open to public inspection. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-59(b).

If the district attorney does not transfer the case prior to indictment, and the superior court retains the case, then the court and law enforcement records of the juveniles involved would no longer be governed by O.C.G.A. § 15-11-59. The records of these juveniles would be open to the public because these cases are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the superior court with no remaining possibility of the case being transferred to juvenile court. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5(b)(2)(A); (Uniform Rules for the Superior Courts, Rule 21). Therefore, it is my unofficial opinion that court records concerning juveniles should be afforded the same treatment as any other superior court records when the superior court retains exclusive jurisdiction over a case involving a juvenile thirteen to seventeen years of age who is accused of committing any of the seven offenses specified in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5(b)(2)(A).

Prepared by:

KEVIN M. O'CONNOR
Assistant Attorney General