Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal, this Deep South state’s new executive and a former juvenile court judge, has made it known that he may be ready to reassess laws mandating that some children be prosecuted as adults.
It will, however, be next year before the laws -- passed nearly 20 years ago -- get a fresh look from members of the state's General Assembly and the governor. Until then, children between the ages of 13 and 17 are automatically prosecuted as adults in Georgia when accused of committing certain serious crimes.
Armed robbery is among the so-called “seven deadly sins” on that list.
Since taking office, Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson, also a former juvenile court judge, has tried some innovative ways to get the word out about this to young people before they end up in prison.
“I keep watching young men age 17 to 22, mostly of color, commit these crimes every day,” Lawson told JJIE.org, noting that at one point last year, 164 armed robberies had taken place in Clayton County, just to the south of Atlanta, in just over a three-month period. “I’m so tired of seeing this. They don’t realize that they’re going to end up in prison for at least 10 years and there’s nothing me or anyone else can do about it – it’s the law.”
Passed in 1994, SB 440 requires children between the ages of 13 and 17 to be prosecuted as adults when accused of committing one of the seven crimes. Once convicted in Superior Court under SB 440, SB 441 imposes a minimum 10-year sentence without the possibility of parole.
Lawson and her director of programs, Gary DuBose, with the support of several county agencies last year, created an educational video called “Real Gun, Fake Gun, Doesn’t Matter.”
The public service announcement features Clayton County teens, judges and law enforcement officers acting out the likely outcome for those who commit armed robbery. Armed robbery in Georgia is treated like other serious crimes such as murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery. Hence the video’s title, using a fake gun has no bearing on the final punishment.
Shot on location at a Clayton County restaurant, a police officer’s home and the courthouse, the video is reminiscent of the 1990s bank heist flick Set It Off, starring Queen Latifah, Vivica Fox and Jada Pinkett Smith. It follows a group of teenage girls – from their decision to rob a local restaurant to their days in court and inevitable fate behind bars.
The effort actually began as a poster contest where Lawson promised $100 from her own pocket to the young person whose design best conveyed the message. Two students ended up splitting the prize. The key elements of their winning drawings were merged into one poster featuring the tagline “Real Gun, Fake Gun, Doesn’t Matter!” Lawson later decided the YouTube-obsessed generation would likely be more responsive to a video message.
The overall goal, Lawson said, is to show the video at schools, churches and community centers in an effort to educate young people, and more importantly to encourage them to share what they’ve learned with their peers.
To arrange a screening of “Real Gun, Fake Gun, Doesn’t Matter,” contact Gary DuBose at 770-477-3450.