Teenagers are using guns to commit some very serious crimes. But why aren’t they being treated like adults who do the same thing?
It is something that the Chatham County District Attorney and Savannah Mayor leaders working together to change.
Right now, anyone accused of Murder, Sexual Assault, Child Molestation or Armed Robbery will start their case in Superior Court, and potentially face time in a Georgia State Prison.
But Aggravated Assault with a Gun or Aggravated Battery by anyone under 18 will start in Juvenile Court, where penalties are limited.
Meg Heap and Eddie Deloach want the Georgia Legislature to change that.
“If you use a gun you are now stepping up into an area where you can kill people and have done so,” said Heap. “You need to be treated as an adult.”
Adult crimes like Aggravated Battery and Aggravated Assault with a gun only result in juvenile charges and five years or less in a juvenile detention center.
Savannah and Chatham County authorities know it, and so do the gangs or groups in the area.
“That was actually a business decision by those groups they could use the kids as juvenile,” said Mayor Deloach. “They could be tried in juvenile court and wouldn’t end up with such a record. They would use those kids and let them take the fall if something happened and they could get out at an earlier age.”
Like Jerry Chambers.
The 16-year-old was charged with shooting a woman in the parking lot of Savannah Mall in 2016.
But he only ended up in juvenile court on his charges, where he was found not guilty.
Less than a year later he was the driver of a car which was involved in a drive-by shooting and a crash which killed three people, including a pedestrian.
“The actions this juvenile is taking are the actions of an adult,” said D.A. Heap. “The crimes they are dealing with now as opposed to ten years ago have increased in violence.”
Heap says she doesn’t want to stop justice, the suspects will still get their day in Court and the D.A.’s office has to present enough evidence to a jury to get a conviction. “She just wants to make sure victims are protected, and criminal do time behind bars if convicted.
“We can use this to maybe dissuade someone from going down the wrong path,” said the Mayor.
“You’ve got a 14-year-old doing acts of an adult and intending to kill someone,” explains to D.A. “Juvenile court is into rehabilitation but there’s a great problem and there’s more violence here.”
Heap and DeLoach are also asking for a change in the “Straw Purchase” law.
That means the person who buys a gun for a convicted felon will face stronger, possibly even the same charges as the person who pulls the trigger.
“It just makes sense,” says Heap. “Other people are getting you the gun which the law says you shouldn’t have, then the person supplying it should be prosecuted,”
Deloach and Heap, along with State Representative Jesse Petrea plan to take this proposal to Atlanta for a presentation and hopefully a vote in January.