By Shelley Gupta, Marion County Prosecutor's Office
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed up to be a volunteer judge for Teen Court. To be honest, I only had a vague idea of what it was even about. Turns out, Teen Court is about teens who have engaged in illegal activities or activities against school policies, have accepted responsibility for their behavior and have agreed to be heard by their peers, who decide what the consequences of the behavior should be. Consequences can include community service, an oral apology to the family present, restitution, an essay, volunteering for Teen Court in another role, etc. In a perfect Teen Court session, there would be a prosecutor, a defense attorney, the actual defendant, a jury of at least six, a bailiff and a judge. The argument is not about guilt or innocence, but rather, telling the story and figuring out fair consequences for the individual.
On the day I volunteered, the individual on "trial" failed to appear, but there were four other students who were volunteers. One of the students had a mentor who filled in for the absent student. We had a mock Teen Court session with three jurors, a bailiff/juror, the judge and the make-shift defendant. As the judge, I had a script to follow, not entirely unlike the script of a criminal jury trial. Since we only had jurors, they asked the questions. When they were done, I had an opportunity to ask questions. The students didn’t leave me many questions to ask – I was impressed by their questions; it was clear they wanted to understand the defendant’s mindset, their background, and whether they felt remorse.
At the end of the "trial," since this was a mock situation, they held their discussion regarding the consequences in the courtroom. The students were thoughtful in their deliberation and consideration of what consequences they would impose. They determined they wanted an essay, an apology and a volunteer day at Teen Court.
It was a fantastic experience as a judge, and I look forward to the next time I can judge again.
If you’re interested in judging for Teen Court, email Dan Cicchini, 2019 chair of the IndyBar Criminal Justice Section.