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Teen Court clears records while teaching law

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 21 October 2021
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 1016

First, a justice of the peace must adopt “Teen Court” proceedings in their jurisdiction, and then open volunteer applications to 13- to 18-year-olds from that precinct. This court is an alternative, voluntary program for young offenders, ages 10 to 18, whose cases are heard first by the justice of the peace, who may offer to transfer their case, if a Class 1-5 misdemeanor, to teen court (not more often than every two years).  Sentencing includes community service hours selected and approved by the court administrator, an adult. 

The defendant is required to maintain a log sheet of service hours, signed by an approved person. Sentences also require serving as a jury member of teen court and may include completion of educational classes and/or writing an essay submitted to the adult court administrator.

The defendant must agree to work with the assigned teen defense attorney on case preparation, generally by phone. The court administrator trains the teenagers on court proceedings and meeting their assigned responsibilities. Many of these teens have been on the court for several years, gaining invaluable experience in public speaking and civics, as well as understanding what “fair and impartial” means.

So why take your case to teen court? This proceeding, if you are successful in completing your sentence, allows the teen to make restitution for an offense while avoiding the fines, clearing one’s record, and stopping the insurance premium hits on driver and vehicle.

Back to the court hearing: the jurors emerge from their deliberation. The jury foreman, a young woman, is asked by the judge if they have reached a verdict. The response is affirmative. The jury sides with the prosecutor in declaring the defendant guilty of the misdemeanor and recommends a sentence of 15 hours of community service and two jury terms. The judge accepts the sentence (I’m thinking “just a little harsh”). 

The adult court administrator speaks to the defendant and lets her know she can serve as a juror immediately in the subsequent virtual court hearing (which she does), and that she’ll call her with the community service details.

I watched two more hearings that evening. The judge, prosecutor, defense counsel and jurors changed with each case. The court administrator was available to mentor any of them needing help or clarification. All sessions were professional and impressively conducted. 

While all the cases that night involved moving vehicle violations, teen court cases can hear any of the Class C misdemeanors like criminal mischief, theft, possession of drug paraphernalia and assault.

I know many of us adults wish there was a sentencing that would allow our records to be cleared for a lapse in judgement or just inattentiveness! 

This is an outstanding program, requiring flexibility in work schedules by members of Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Judge Evelyn McLean’s staff, affording magnificent opportunities for young people to learn courtroom decorum and perform courtroom responsibilities, while allowing youthful defendants to clear their records. 

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