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Unofficial Opinion 96-1

Unofficial Opinion 96-1

February 9, 1996
To: 

Presiding Judge
Juvenile Court of DeKalb County

Re: 

The "Crime Victims' Bill of Rights," O.C.G.A. § 17-17-1 et seq., is not applicable to juvenile court proceedings.

You have inquired of this office as to whether or not the "Crime Victims' Bill of Rights," O.C.G.A. § 17-17-1 et seq., is applicable to juvenile court proceedings. In your inquiry, you note that there is no specific reference to the juvenile courts in the legislation and that the terminology used in the bill is dissimilar to that used in juvenile court proceedings and Code sections governing them, see O.C.G.A. § 15-11-1 et seq. Upon a review of the legislation, and applying rules of statutory construction, I conclude that the legislation does not apply to juvenile courts.

This legislation was enacted by the General Assembly to accord victims of crimes with certain basic rights just as the accused are accorded certain basic rights. See O.C.G.A. § 17-17-1. "Crime" is defined as an act committed in this state which constitutes a violation of certain enumerated provisions of the Criminal Code, Title 16. O.C.G.A. § 17-17-3(4). A "victim" is defined in the legislation as a person against whom a crime has been perpetrated or the next of kin in the event of the victim's death. O.C.G.A. § 17-17-3(11). These terms, as defined, appear inconsistent with the traditional management of juvenile cases in this state and counsel against a finding that the legislation applies to the juvenile courts. See J.E. v. State, 127 Ga. App. 589 (1972) (act ceases to be a crime in juvenile court proceedings). A juvenile under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court is not charged with the commission of a crime, but rather with the commission of a delinquent act which is not a crime but instead "[a]n act designated a crime by the laws of this state." O.C.G.A. § 15-11-2(6)(A).

Although reference is made within the statutory scheme to the Department of Children and Youth Services ("DCYS"), see O.C.G.A. § 17-17-3(5) defining "custodial authority," this isolated reference is insufficient evidence of a legislative intent to include the juvenile courts within the ambit of the act. Notably, when a person under the age of seventeen (17) is convicted of a felony and sentenced as an adult that person is committed to the custody of DCYS until such person reaches seventeen (17) years of age. O.C.G.A. § 17-10-14. Construing these statutes in harmony results in the conclusion that the reference to DCYS in the Crime Victims' Bill of Rights relates to persons sentenced as adults and not juvenile offenders in general.

The legislative scheme for the treatment of juveniles alleged delinquent is replete with distinctions between criminal matters and matters concerning juveniles alleged delinquent. "An order of disposition or other adjudication in a proceeding under [the Juvenile Code] is not a conviction of a crime . . . ." O.C.G.A. § 15-11-38(a). In addition to these indications of a legislative intent that juvenile delinquency matters not be considered criminal matters, the distinction between juvenile and criminal cases has often been recognized and observed by the courts. See T.L.T. v. State, 133 Ga. App. 895, 897(1) (1975) ("it is clear from the entire statute that the General Assembly sought to treat matters of juvenile delinquency as a class of conduct separate and distinct from conventional criminality"); K.M.S. v. State, 129 Ga. App. 683, 684 (1973) ("The juvenile court cannot find anyone guilty of a crime.").

Furthermore, the General Assembly has indicated its desire to exclude juvenile court proceedings from the application of the "Crime Victims' Bill of Rights" by separately according similar rights to the victims of delinquent acts by juveniles. Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 15-11-28(f) provides that a juvenile court shall notify any victim of a delinquent child's alleged offense so that the victim may submit a victim impact statement. The statement submitted by a victim is attached to the case file and may be used during any stage of the proceedings against the child involving predisposition, disposition, or determination of restitution.

Since the General Assembly enacted this legislation as a means to accord basic rights to victims of crimes, and given that juveniles within the juvenile court system cannot be found guilty of a crime, it is my unofficial opinion that the "Crime Victims' Bill of Rights," O.C.G.A. § 17-17-1 et seq., is not applicable to juvenile court proceedings.

Prepared by:

WILLIAM M. DROZE
Senior Assistant Attorney General