2012 State of Judiciary

Chief Justice Hunstein calls for juvenile justice reform

Speaking to a joint session of the Georgia General Assembly, Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein delivered her third State of the Judiciary address on January 25, 2012.  “This yearly tradition,” she began, “underscores our commitment to work together as co-equal branches of government in our common mission of serving the citizens of this great state.”

altChief Justice Hunstein praised the unprecedented intrabranch cooperation demonstrated by the work of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform in 2011.  Among other things, the Special Council recommends giving judges more sentencing options by creating a statewide system of accountability courts, which include drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans courts. “These accountability courts have a proven track record of holding offenders accountable while reducing their likelihood of reoffending,” she noted.   

While the Special Council focused it’s efforts on adult offenders, the Chief Justice urged legislators to also consider reform for juvenile offenders.  “Children who drop out of school, get involved in drugs, develop mental health problems, are unruly, disrespectful, and out of control without ever getting any kind of intervention are strong candidates for becoming adult criminals. We must face the reality that for many of these children, Georgia’s youth prisons are mere incubators for adult crime.”

Chief Justice Hunstein took time to recognize a Georgia citizen whose life has been changed thanks to the judicial system. Ms. Tasha Moseley’s childhood was a recipe for future incarceration.  Just eight years old when her mother disappeared from her life, Ms. Moseley first smoked marijuana at age 11. By age 13, she was hooked on methamphetamine.  Tasha bounced in and out of boot camps and Youth Detention Centers until a concerned probation officer intervened. Under the watchful eyes of the Douglas County Juvenile Court, including Judge Peggy H. Walker, Ms. Jenny McDade and Ms. Jennifer King, Ms. Moseley turned her life around. She earned her GED and a degree from West Central Technical College. Today instead of being a burden on tax payers as a criminal offender, Tasha is employed full time and is a tax paying citizen.
 
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Chief Justice Hunstein told the story of Tasha Moseley and the Douglas County Juvenile Court team who showed interest in her case during the State of the Judiciary address. Above, the Chief Justice, center, poses with Ms. Tasha Moseley, left, Ms. Jennifer King, Ms. Jenny McDade, and Judge Peggy H. Walker in the Chief's office.

Georgia courts have not been immune to the ongoing financial crisis, in some cases being affected by cuts on both the state and county levels, the Chief Justice explained. “DeKalb County has four pending death penalty cases that it cannot move forward due to a lack of resources.” Constitutional guarantees in criminal trials sometimes mean that in cash-strapped counties, civil trials are likely to be delayed. “The good news is we have never idly sat by,” Chief Justice Hunstein reminded the legislators. “I report to you today that even in the face of a mighty struggle, your court system remains sound, strong, and stable. We are holding the line, doing more with less, and moving forward”

The judiciary in Georgia continues to work diligently to progress the cause of justice:

  • In 1994, the first drug court was created in Bibb County. Today, there are more than 100 accountability courts of all types in Georgia.
  • This year, Georgia became one of the first states in the nation to create a new rule for the recusal of judges. Georgia’s rule has become a model rule and was recently adopted, with minor changes, by the American Bar Association.
  • The Supreme Court is nearing 100% participation in attorneys filing their appeals electronically.
  • Georgia’s judiciary has a nationwide influence that includes hosting the annual conference of the nation’s Supreme Court justices, as well as the nation’s court administrators. Additionally, Judge Peggy H. Walker, Juvenile Court, Douglas County, will become President of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges in 2014.

Chief Justice Hunstein invited the members of the General Assembly to spend a day visiting their local courts: “All of us who are judges would be honored to have you visit our courts. Especially as you consider the options now before you for reforming this state’s criminal justice system, a half-day visit to your local courthouse could help enlighten you about the types of cases our judges face each day.”

Read the State of the Judiciary address here.

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