. "2. The Copycat Factor: Mental Illness, Guns, and the Shooting Incident at Heritage High School, Rockdale County, Georgia." Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2003.
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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
The most significant changes in the local juvenile justice system in recent years occurred as the result of changes at the state level. As in most states, the Georgia legislature has passed legislation making it easier to transfer juveniles accused of serious crimes out of the juvenile court so that they can be tried as adults. The Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 1994 identifies seven categories of criminal charges, known as the “seven deadly sins,” for which juveniles over the age of 13 are automatically transferred to superior court to be tried as adults. The seven charges notably do not include aggravated assault, the most serious charge that could be brought against T.J. Solomon, since he did not kill any of his victims. For that reason, T.J. Solomon was subject to a transfer hearing in juvenile court, which became the primary judicial forum in which evidence related to his deeds, intentions, and mental health was presented. Following the decision to transfer him to superior court, that evidentiary record then became the basis for the sentencing hearing that followed his guilty plea in superior court. This was the only transfer hearing held in Rockdale County in the memory of anyone we interviewed.
In 1998, the state parole board also adopted guidelines mandating that those convicted as adults of 20 specific offenses serve 90 percent of their sentences before becoming eligible for parole. This change in policy eventually affected the disposition of T.J.’s case.
Another significant change in juvenile justice in this state was the 1998 signing of a memorandum of agreement between the State of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Justice, following a federal investigation of conditions of confinement in juvenile facilities in the state. The results of that investigation revealed severe deficiencies in educational and health services and the monitoring of abuse.
As is true throughout most of the South, hunting is a common activity in Rockdale County. Consequently, gun ownership is pervasive. Under Georgia law, the age at which a person becomes an adult with respect to most criminal code violations is 17. In order to possess or have control of a handgun, however, a person must be at least 18, unless the minor is using the handgun at a safety training course, for target shooting, for hunting or fishing, or is in transit to or from any of these activities. A minor is also allowed to have possession of a handgun on his or her own or parents’ own property if there is parental consent to maintain such possession.
Anyone in Georgia, regardless of age, is allowed to have possession of a rifle or shotgun and is allowed to carry such weapons as long as they are openly visible and not concealed. Concealed carrying of a handgun is