Coordinator Beverly Hodges
What is Teen Court?
Teen Court is a unique justice program for first time offenders of misdemeanor crimes. It is designed to give youth between the ages of 11 and 18 who have broken the law and admitted their guilt, a second chance. Those who are accepted into the program must go “to a sentencing trial” in a real courtroom with teens serving as prosecutors and defense attorneys. An adult judge presides and a teen jury determines the sentence, which includes mandatory jury duty in future Teen Courts. Upon successful completion of the program charges against the defendant are dismissed.
In addition to the obvious benefit of interrupting a developing pattern of criminal behavior, the Teen Court program helps to reinforce self-esteem, provide motivation for self-improvement and promote a healthy attitude toward authority.
Teen Court is also designed to educate youth about the judicial process. Through direct participation, Teen Court addresses responsibility for one’s behavior and accountability to one’s community and peers, and enhances respect for the judicial process. Each participant in Teen Court, whether a defendant, juror, bailiff, teen attorney, or adult volunteer, is involved in a positive and meaningful way.
How does Teen Courtwork?
Cases are referred from the Municipal Court. The juvenile must admit guilt in order to participate inTeen Court.
The juvenile appears before the teen jury, and is represented by a teen “defense attorney.” The prosecutor is also a teen “attorney” and both attorneys are assisted by adult attorney mentors. Each teen attorney makes an opening statement, the defendant testifies and is cross-examined. Evidence is considered. The jury deliberates and reaches a verdict, and the defendant is sentenced. Upon completion of the Teen Court sentence the Municipal Court charges against the juvenile are dismissed.
How are the teen juror, bailiffs, and attorneys selected?
School administrators and teachers are asked to nominate teens for participation in Teen Court. Teens may also nominate themselves. Parents/guardians must consent to the teens’ participation. Mandatory training sessions are held each semester for all interested teens. Teens appointed as attorneys are assigned an adult attorney mentor to assist them in trial preparation. Previously sentenced teens are added to the peer jury pool.
What types of sentences are imposed by Teen Court?
Sentences imposed by teen juries must include community service and participation in future Teen Court sessions as jurors. Sentences may also include restitution to the victim, letters of apology, remedial classes (theft, alcohol education, etc.) and essays. Sentencing is intended to be constructive, and to involve the defendant actively in the community as well as in future Teen Court sessions.
What are the benefits of Teen Court?
To the defendant: Interruption of a potential pattern of criminal behavior. Improvement of self-esteem resulting from successful completion of the program. Reinforcement of positive behavior. Accountability. An opportunity for a young person to avoid a criminal record.
To the community: Service to the community benefiting the entire community. Parent-guardian involvement. Reduction of the case load in the over-burdened criminal court system. Dramatic reduction in the number of repeat offenders. To the schools: A positive alternative for students who have stepped “off track” for the first time. Judgment of a teen by their “peers” which in many cases has a more powerful impact than adult discipline. Real consequences for delinquent behavior in the school environment.
To the student volunteers: Involvement in redirecting peers. A better understanding of the judicial system by teens through hands-on participation. Reinforcement of good citizenship. Improvement of public speaking and advocacy skills.