In a lecture he gave to Darlington Upper School students, attorney J. Tom Morgan talked about legal proceedings involving teenagers and minors in Georgia and the various ways a young person can be charged with a major crime.
Morgan is a former district attorney and currently teaches law at Western Carolina University. He still practices law in both Georgia and North Carolina and is known for specializing in cases involving young people, especially minors.
Along with the lecture, the attorney provided 100 copies of his book “Ignorance is No Defense” for the students to get a more in-depth look at how at the law applies to them.
During the Tuesday lecture, the attorney went over the various legal matters teens could possibly get involved in and be charged with, such as sexual crimes, violent crimes, drugs and alcohol and shoplifting.
According to the attorney, minors as young as 13 can be tried as an adult for violent crimes such as murder, rape and kidnapping. At the age of 17, a teenager is considered an adult under Georgia law, regardless of the crime.
Georgia is one of three states that tries 17-year-olds as adults, but there is a bill that could change this law currently being reviewed by state legislators.
However, the law can get confusing when it comes to sex or sexually explicit images, Morgan said.
At the age of 16, minors can legally consent to sex, but can’t be sexually active with anyone younger or they could be charged with crime and potentially have to register as a sex offender. Morgan also pointed out that anyone under 18 who is sent or receives a nude picture could be charged with possession of child pornography.
“Sex crimes are a strict liability crime,” Morgan said. “It doesn’t matter what you think, it doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter what you’re told.”
When going over crimes involving alcohol and drugs, Morgan gave examples of how a minor could face charges. If an officer finds some minors drinking at a party and sees that alcohol is available, all the minors at the party could be arrested under Georgia’s equal access rule.
“What that rule says is this: any person in the vicinity of contraband is presumed to be in possession of it,” Morgan said.
However, Morgan said a minor can’t be charged with possession of alcohol if they don’t have alcohol in their system. If a teen finds themselves in a situation where they haven’t taken a drink of alcohol at a party, he advised them to ask the officer for an alco-sensor test.
“Do not use the word ‘breathalyzer.’ If you use that, the officer can say he doesn’t have one,” Morgan said. “With an alco-sensor, you can determine if someone is positive or negative for alcohol.”
If the teen tests negative, the officer would have to let them go or call their parents, he said.
The lecture was part of an ongoing speaker series on student wellness and safety.