By Brett Thomas, Hume Smith Geddes Green & Simmons LLP
The Criminal Justice Section is excited to be working with Teen Court again in 2020. Our executive committee is committed to service and we would like to extend an invitation for any member interested in volunteering. Teen Court is a great alternative to the juvenile justice system and helps teens who make a mistake understand how their actions have affected others, the legal process and learn from their mistakes.
Participants in Teen Court have either gotten in trouble at school or with the law. Some of the kids have been arrested on minor charges such as theft or battery, while others may be at risk of suspension or expulsion from school. With regard to criminal cases, it is essentially a juvenile diversion program.
Teen Court is a jury trial for sentencing. The participants admit fault and a jury of their peers is responsible for handing down the sentence. The jury consists of teenage volunteers who hear the case. Ideally, there are also teen volunteers to prosecute and defend, although not always. In situations where there is no prosecutor or defense counsel, the judge asks questions of the defendant and witnesses.
The defendant is required to come with a parent. During the fact-finding part of the trial, the defendant is questioned by the prosecutor, defense counsel, jury and sometimes the judge. Other witnesses including the victim or defendant’s parent are also questioned. After the fact finding, the prosecutor and defense counsel make their arguments to the jury. The judge reads instructions to the jury, including an explanation of mitigating and aggravating factors to consider.
Members of the jury are allowed to deliberate for 10 minutes to agree on what sentence to impose. It is required that each defendant be a juror in Teen Court at least once. Other sentencing options include an apology to the victim, apology to the parent, community service work and theft or anger management workshops.
Teen Court takes place two to three times a month in the evenings and usually only lasts for one to two hours. It is a great way for lawyers to give back to the community. We have the power to let these kids know that we care, we are here for them and we want to help them learn from their mistakes and grow into successful adults. If you are interested in being a volunteer with Teen Court, please contact me and I can pass your information along to the director. Check out the Teen Court website here.
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