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Unofficial Opinion 98-9

Unofficial Opinion 98-9

July 14, 1998
To: 

District Attorney
Ogeechee Judicial Circuit

Re: 

In light of the 1997 amendments to the School Safety and Juvenile Justice Reform Act limiting the exclusive jurisdiction of the superior courts to the trials of juveniles charged with offenses enumerated in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5(b)(2)(A), judges of the magistrate court may issue arrest warrants for juveniles charged with such offenses.

You have asked for my unofficial opinion regarding the effect of the 1997 amendments to O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5 et seq., the School Safety and Juvenile Justice Reform Act (“the Act”), and specifically the amendment to subparagraph (A) of paragraph (2) of subsection (b) of O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5. Prior to the 1997 amendments, that Code Section read in pertinent part:

(b) Criminal jurisdiction.

* * *

(2)(A) The superior court shall have exclusive jurisdiction over any matter concerning any child 13 to 17 years of age who is alleged to have committed any of the following offenses: (i) Murder; (ii) Voluntary manslaughter; (iii) Rape; (iv) Aggravated sodomy; (v) Aggravated child molestation; (vi) Aggravated sexual battery; or (vii) Armed robbery if committed with a firearm.

O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5(b)(2)(A) (emphasis added).

As you noted in your request, this Office has previously opined “that the magistrate court judges cannot perform these functions under the new Act [i.e., (1) issue an arrest warrant for a juvenile covered by the Act, (2) conduct a first appearance, and (3) conduct a preliminary or committal hearing for such a juvenile].” 1995 Op. Att’y Gen. U95-9. That opinion had as its basis the emphasized language from the above-quoted portion of the Act that “[t]he superior court shall have exclusive jurisdiction over any matter concerning any child 13 to 17 years of age who is alleged to have committed any of the following offenses . . . .” Id. (emphasis added).

In its 1997 session, the General Assembly amended the Act so that it presently reads:

(b) Criminal jurisdiction.

* * *

(2)(A) The superior court shall have exclusive jurisdiction over the trial of any child 13 to 17 years of age who is alleged to have committed any of the following offenses . . . .

O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5(b)(2)(A) (emphasis added).

Obviously, the decision of the General Assembly to limit application of the superior court’s exclusive jurisdiction over such affected juveniles to “the trial of” such children removes the basis upon which the Office’s aforementioned previous unofficial opinion that judges of the magistrate court could not issue arrest warrants for juveniles charged with an offense enumerated in the Act was premised. Thus, it would appear that judges of the magistrate court may issue arrest warrants for juveniles charged with offenses enumerated in the Act.

Furthermore, the 1997 amendments also included the addition of a new subparagraph (A.1) to paragraph (2) of subsection (b) of the Act. That new subparagraph provides that: “The granting of bail or pretrial release of a juvenile charged with an offense enumerated in subparagraph (A) of this paragraph shall be governed by the provisions of Code Section 17-6-1 [providing generally for where and how certain offenses are bailable].” It would appear, therefore, that the General Assembly has indicated by both of the aforementioned 1997 amendments its desire that the prosecution of juveniles charged with an offense enumerated in the Act be conducted in most respects equivalent to any other prosecution before the superior court.

Moreover, this Office has also previously opined that “a magistrate may issue arrest warrants for persons under 17 years of age.” 1984 Op. Att’y Gen. U84-30. That opinion, premised both upon the powers of the magistrate and upon the “non-exclusive” powers of the juvenile court, reasoned that because the magistrate’s power to issue arrest warrants was not limited to adults, and because the Juvenile Court Code of Georgia does not limit arrest powers regarding juveniles, “magistrates are authorized to issue arrest warrants for persons under 17 years of age.” Id.

Thus, it is my unofficial opinion that judges of the magistrate court may issue arrest warrants for juveniles charged with an offense enumerated in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5(b)(2)(A).

Prepared by:

CHRISTOPHER S. BRASHER
Assistant Attorney General