Interference with custody in Georgia is defined under O.C.G.A. § 16-5-45 (the Official Code of Georgia Annotated). According to this law, interference with custody occurs when a person knowingly or recklessly takes, entices, or keeps a child or a committed person away from their legal custodian without the consent of that custodian or without lawful authority.
What Are the Definitions of a Committed Person and a Child?
To better understand the definition above, let’s break down some key terms.
A committed person, as defined under Georgia law, is a person who is subject to the legal custody or control of another person, agency, or institution by virtue of a court order. This can include people placed in mental health facilities, juvenile detention centers, or foster care.
A child, in the context of Georgia’s interference with custody law, is a person under the age of 18 who is subject to the lawful custody or control of a parent, guardian, or other person or agency authorized by a court order.
What Is Interstate Interference with Custody in Georgia?
Interstate interference with custody happens when a person takes a child or committed person across state lines without the consent of the legal custodian or without lawful authority.
This action can escalate the legal consequences of interference with custody, as it may involve multiple jurisdictions and potentially trigger federal laws, such as the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA). The PKPA establishes guidelines for determining which state has jurisdiction over a custody dispute and enforces custody orders across state lines.
The act requires that states honor and enforce custody orders issued by other states as long as certain criteria are met, such as the order being legally valid and the issuing court having proper jurisdiction.
In addition, the legal custodian may file a petition for the return of the child under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). This act provides a legal framework for resolving jurisdictional issues that arise when multiple states are involved in a child custody dispute. The UCCJEA requires that the child’s home state, as determined by certain criteria such as the child’s residence and the duration of time spent in each state, has jurisdiction over the custody proceedings.
Interstate interference with custody in Georgia is considered a felony offense, which is more serious than a misdemeanor crime. The gravity of this crime reflects the potential harm caused by removing a child or committed person from their lawful custodian and the jurisdiction of the Georgia courts.
What Must the Prosecution Prove?
In Georgia, to obtain a conviction for interference with custody, the State must provide evidence that proves the suspect’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This requires demonstrating that the suspect knowingly or recklessly withheld a child from another person’s care without lawful authority and with the intent to do so.
While not explicitly specified in the statute, certain actions like obstructing phone calls or restricting a child’s interaction with the other parent can constitute interference with the parent-child relationship. In custody proceedings, a court may consider these actions when making decisions regarding custody arrangements.
What Is the Difference Between Standard Interference and Interstate Interference in Georgia?
The primary difference between standard interference and interstate interference lies in crossing state lines. Standard interference with custody refers to situations where a person takes, entices, or keeps a child or committed person within the state of Georgia without the consent of the custodian or lawful authority. Interstate interference, on the other hand, involves transporting the child or committed person across state lines under similar circumstances.
Another significant difference between the two offenses is the severity of the penalties. While standard interference is classified as a misdemeanor, interstate interference is considered a felony. This means that the potential legal consequences for interstate interference are more severe, including the possibility of a longer prison sentence and higher fines.
What Is the Penalty for Interstate Interference?
The penalties for interstate interference with custody in Georgia can be severe. Those found guilty of this felony offense can face imprisonment for one to five years and may also be required to pay substantial fines.
These penalties not only affect the person who committed the offense but can also have lasting consequences for the child or committed person involved, as well as the parents or legal guardians.
In some cases, the court may modify or terminate the parental rights of the offending party, limiting their ability to maintain a relationship with the child or committed person.
What Are the Defenses for Interference with Custody in Georgia?
Here is a brief list of potential defenses that can be used in an interference with custody case in Georgia:
- Unclear agreement: If the terms of the custody order are ambiguous and the parties do not have a clear understanding of the boundaries, the defendant cannot be held liable for violating the terms of the agreement. This was established in Brassell v. State, 259 Ga. 590 (1989).
- Lack of intent or knowledge: If the defendant did not intend to take the child away from the lawful custodian or was not aware that they were violating visitation arrangements, they may have a defense. In Scott v. State, 198 Ga. App. 10 (1990), the father was found not guilty of interference with custody when he kept his daughter beyond the authorized period due to a mechanical breakdown of his vehicle.
- Belief of abuse or neglect: The law allows for a child to be kept from the lawful custodian if there is reasonable cause to believe that they have been abused or neglected. However, the Division of Family and Children Services must be notified within 72 hours, even if there is cause.
- Not a child: Under Georgia law, a child is someone under the age of 17 or 18 in certain circumstances. If it can be proven that the child was above this age during the interference, then a conviction cannot be obtained.
Should I Contact a Lawyer to Represent Me?
If you are facing criminal charges in the state of Georgia, it is highly recommended that you contact a Georgia criminal lawyer as soon as possible to represent you. Criminal charges can have serious and long-lasting consequences, including jail time, fines, and a criminal record that can impact your employment opportunities and personal life.
A criminal lawyer can provide you with legal guidance and representation throughout the criminal justice process. They can help you understand your rights, explain the charges against you, and develop a defense strategy tailored to your specific case. Additionally, they can negotiate with prosecutors on your behalf and represent you in court if necessary.
When choosing a criminal lawyer in Georgia, it is important to find someone who has experience in handling cases similar to yours and who has a proven track record of success. You can research potential lawyers by reading reviews, checking their qualifications and experience, and scheduling a consultation to discuss your case.
Don’t risk your future by facing criminal charges without proper legal representation. Use LegalMatch’s attorney-client matching service to contact a Georgia criminal lawyer today and start protecting your rights and defending your case.