Originally created 06/02/04

Lawyers discuss laws on child sentencing



ATLANTA - Georgia law might need to be changed to strengthen sentences against children convicted of murder, said lawyers and politicians at a meeting on the topic Tuesday.

The hearing was prompted by the case of a 12-year-old whose maximum punishment was two years imprisonment if found guilty of strangling 8-year-old Amy Yates in Carrollton in April.

"Why is it that a person who commits murder can only serve two years in jail?" asked Sen. Bill Hamrick, R-Carrollton, who is heading the study committee on youth and crime.

The boy can't be tried as an adult under Georgia law, meaning his maximum sentence would be two years. Children 13 and older can face adult prosecutions.

Judge Peggy Walker, of Douglas County juvenile court, said judges should have more freedom in how they handle youth cases, and the state should provide more support services for offenders younger than 18.

"Legal scholars and child advocates are now taking the position ... that children should never be tried as adults," Judge Walker said.

District attorneys and defense lawyers also discussed ways to change mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which come with decadelong incarcerations for committing the state's most serious crimes.

That became a topic after the Georgia Supreme Court last month overturned the 10-year sentence and conviction of Marcus Dixon, who was found guilty of aggravated child molestation for having sex with a 15-year-old classmate when he was 18.

"We have to be careful about passing such sweeping laws without considering what the impact will be," said Lee Sexton, of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.