Issue: May a juvenile court adjudication of a child as delinquent serve as a prior conviction for the purposes of mandatory minimum sentence under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391?
This arose during course of a sentencing hearing. My client was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, and she wished to enter a guilty plea to the DUI. However, when she was a juvenile she had been arrested for DUI and was adjudicated delinquent in those proceedings. So, the Court wanted to know if it should sentence her consistent with a 2nd DUI in 10 years based upon the juvenile delinquency adjudication that occurred within the prior 10 years. If you face this situation, hopefully this portion of our sentencing memorandum will help.
Remember: If the Court inquires of you or your client about prior alcohol-related charges, HONESTY TO THE COURT IS REQUIRED.
The Defendant in the above-styled case negotiated a sentence with the State that anticipated this DUI charge being treated as a 1st lifetime conviction. During the Defendant's plea, the Court inquired of the Defendant if she had at anytime prior been charged or convicted of an alcohol-related offense. Defendant's counsel disclosed to the Court that the Defendant had been charged as a juvenile with DUI, and to the best of counsel's knowledge, the Defendant was adjudicated delinquent based upon that allegation as a juvenile. The Court suspended the Defendant's sentencing to allow the parties to conduct further investigation into whether the juvenile court adjudication must serve as a prior conviction for the purposes of calculating the mandatory minimum sentence under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391.
In A.B.W. v. State, 231 Ga. 699, 203 S.E.2d 512 (1974). the Supreme Court of Georgia held that
a [j]uvenile [c]ourt cannot convict a juvenile of a crime as defined by Georgia [l]aw. A [j]uvenile [c]ourt convicts a child for being delinquent, and such an adjudication is not a conviction of a crime or crimes. … [T]he commitment of a juvenile to any authorized facility is not commitment for conviction of a crime. Such commitment is only for rehabilitation or treatment.
Our Supreme Court has also stated that ‘[u]nder Georgia law, when a juvenile is adjudicated to be a delinquent by a juvenile court, the adjudication is not regarded as a criminal conviction.' Based on the unequivocal language of the Supreme Court, we conclude that an adjudication of delinquency does not constitute a criminal conviction sufficient to support a conviction or delinquency adjudication for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
In re J.W., 309 Ga. App. 470, 471-72, 711 S.E.2d 48, 49 (2011)(citations omitted).
The plain and unambiguous language of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391 requires a prior conviction within a ten-year period in order for a DUI conviction to be treated as anything other that a first DUI conviction for the purposes of imposing mandatory minimum requirements. For example,
For the second conviction within a ten-year period of time, as measured from the dates of previous arrests for which convictions were obtained or pleas of nolo contendere were accepted to the date of the current arrest for which a conviction is obtained or a plea of nolo contendere is accepted….
O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391.
Because we cannot treat a juvenile delinquency adjudication as a conviction under A.B.W. v. State, 231 Ga. 699, 203 S.E.2d 512 (1974), the adjudication does not serve as a prior for the purposes of enhancing the mandatory minimums applicable under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391.
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