Juvenile Law Center, with the support of The Center for Children and Families, Southern Juvenile Defender Center, and Southern Poverty Law Center, filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Jonas Brinkley, a 15-year-old child who was under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Georgia adult criminal court.
It is established law that assuring the competency of a defendant is essential to maintaining the legitimacy, fairness, and dignity of the judicial process. However, the Georgia Superior Court ignored issues of Brinkley’s competence at sentencing, despite the fact that his lack of competence to understand and participate in the criminal proceedings was apparent. Modern research on adolescent development demonstrates that immaturity and lack of experience hinder children’s ability to fully understand, protect and exercise their rights. Courts and legislatures have increasingly relied on these principles to properly address a child’s developmental maturity in the justice system. In particular, the Georgia Juvenile Code allows for a determination of competency for transfer to adult court based on “the child’s age or maturity.” However, despite Brinkley’s evident inability to fully comprehend the sentencing process, 15-year-old Brinkley was not given the benefit of this standard or any gauge of his developmental maturity in adult court. The court’s disregard of signals of Brinkley’s incompetency, and failure to consider his developmental immaturity raises serious concerns about due process and fundamental fairness.
Juvenile Law Center’s brief argued that the superior court thus failed to adequately protect the due process rights of Jonas Brinkley. The failure of the court to address the issue of competency violates the due process clause of the United States Constitution as well as Georgia law. This failure resulted in fundamentally unfair proceedings that can only be remedied by granting Brinkley a new trial.
On June 18, 2012, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a decision in which it stated that the Court "has no authority to decide cases that are not within the jurisdiction granted to us by the Constitution, and we must therefore transfer this appeal." Accordingly, the case was transferred to the Georgia Court of Appeals.