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In re A. H.

Court of Appeals of Georgia

June 25, 2015

In the Interest of A. H., a child

Page 164

Continuance. Douglas Juvenile Court. Before Judge Harrison.

James J. Anagnostakis, for appellant.

Brian K. Fortner, District Attorney, Steven C. Knittel, Barry H. Wood, James A. Dooley, Assistant District Attorneys, for appellee.

BRANCH, Judge. Andrews, P. J., and Miller, J., concur.


Page 165

Branch, Judge.

A. H. appeals from an order of the juvenile court of Douglas County, which granted the State's request for a 48-hour continuance of A. H.'s adjudicatory hearing. A. H. contends that the juvenile court erred in granting the motion for a continuance because it failed to consider the factors set forth in OCGA § 15-11-110 (a) and because the State failed to show good cause for a continuance. For reasons explained more fully below, we vacate the order of the juvenile court granting the continuance and remand for a determination of whether, under the circumstances of this case, the reason proffered by the State for a continuance constituted good cause for delaying the adjudicatory hearing.

The relevant facts are undisputed and the record shows that on or about May 2, 2014, a then 16-year old A. H. was arrested following a police chase of a stolen car in Douglas County. According to the report of the investigating officer, during the chase, the driver of the stolen car rammed a police vehicle and law enforcement ended the [332 Ga.App. 591] chase by performing a precision immobilization technique[1] on the stolen car. At that point, all four occupants of the car, including A. H., abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot. A. H., who had been seated in the front passenger seat, was holding a pistol as he exited the vehicle. When he raised the pistol slightly, he was shot and injured by a Douglas County deputy. After police apprehended A. H., he was taken to Grady Hospital for treatment and was subsequently placed in detention on May 6, 2014.

On May 7, 2014, the juvenile court held the detention hearing required by OCGA § 15-11-472.[2] A probation officer with the Bibb County Department of Juvenile Justice (" DJJ" ) and a case manager with the Bibb County Department of Family and Children Services (" DFACS" ) were present at that hearing, and they informed the court that A. H. had been placed in the legal custody of DFACS at some time prior to the incident in question and that he was currently in the restrictive custody of DJJ. At the outset of the hearing, the prosecutor asked that A. H.'s detention be continued. Both the case manager and the probation officer concurred in this request. The probation officer explained that even in the absence of the current charges, continued detention would be required because A. H. had been reported as a runaway from the DJJ group home where he had been placed. The court stated that in light of the evidence presented, including the hold on A. H. as a result of his current committal to DJJ, probable cause existed for A. H.'s continued detention.[3]

On May 9, 2014, the State filed a delinquency petition as to A. H., charging him with theft by receiving, theft by taking, fleeing a police officer, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The trial court scheduled an adjudicatory hearing for May 19, 2014, and it provided both the DJJ probation officer and the DFACS case manager with notice of this fact.

At the beginning of the May 19 proceeding, a representative of the Douglas County district attorney's office moved for a 48-hour [332 Ga.App. 592] continuance of the adjudicatory hearing. In support of this request, the district attorney's office stated that it needed additional time to review the case and decide whether

Page 166

to file a motion to transfer the case to superior court, where A. H. would be tried as an adult. Counsel for A. H. objected to a continuance and stated that A. H. was prepared to admit to the charges. The juvenile court, however, refused to take an admission from A. H., noting that Bibb County DFACS was A. H.'s legal custodian and that no DFACS representative had appeared at the hearing. The court then explained that it could not " take an admission from a child without their legal custodian being here." A. H.'s attorney argued that A. H. was in the joint legal custody of both DFACS and DJJ; that the probation officer from Bibb County DJJ was present; and that the presence of one legal custodian was sufficient to allow the adjudicatory hearing to proceed. To support this argument, the lawyer for A. H. requested permission to call the probation officer as a witness. The juvenile court responded that A. H. was " not in the legal custody of DJJ. ... That's not a legal custodial placement." The court then indicated that ...

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