What is Teen Court?
The Teen Court concept is based on the philosophy that youthful offenders will not continue to offend when a jury of their peers punishes them. The program is open to juvenile first-time, misdemeanor offenders. This program allows them to emerge with a clean record, presuming all conditions of their sentence have been completed within the guidelines provided. The jury, which is comprised of teens, does not decide the guilt or innocence of the offender but assesses constructive sentencing for the offender who has pleaded guilty.
How does Teen Court work?
Teen Court is made up of volunteers from local middle and high schools. These volunteers serve as jurors, clerks, and attorneys; the only adults in the program are the Coordinator and Judges. Defendants are required to serve as jurors in subsequent proceedings. The program is sponsored by the local County Circuit Judiciary.
The defendant must be accompanied by his parent or legal guardian at the sanctioning hearing. The clerk swears in the defendant and administers the oath to the jurors to render a fair sentence based on the evidence presented. The defendant and the parents are the only witnesses. There is direct and cross examination of the defendant by both prosecuting and defense counsel. After closing arguments, the jury deliberates and agrees on sanctions for the defendant. Court is then reconvened and the sanctions are read.
Teen Court Sentencing
Each defendant receives from 40-75 hours of community service per charge, which must be performed at a non-profit organization. The defendant also must serve 4-8 jury duties in subsequent Teen Court proceedings. Restitution is required where applicable.
Each defendant receives 75-150 community service hours per charge. The defendant must serve between 10-12 jury duties. Beyond these sanctions, the jury is free to impose additional sanctions that range from a tour of the County Jail to apology letters to the victims, to writing special essays, to the imposition of a curfew. The youth may be referred to other agencies for other sanctions, such as anger management or counseling. These sanctions are limited only by the imagination of the jurors and the concept of fairness and reason.
The defendant has 90 days to complete all required sanctions for misdemeanors and 120 days for felony cases and no valid driver\’s license.
No Valid Driver’s License
Teen Court also accepts referrals from Misdemeanor Traffic Court for juveniles charged with no valid driver’s license. These youth receive the same sanctions as misdemeanors cases listed above plus a traffic law workbook. They must complete all required sanctions within 75-90 days.
The defendant may accept or reject the sentence and elect to appear before the local county Juvenile Court. The presiding Judge or Coordinator can terminate the proceeding for good cause at any stage.
Who can be a part of Teen Court?
The Teen Court Coordinator notifies the local middle and high schools of the training sessions for volunteers that are held early in the fall school term. These training sessions are attended by interested teens and are conducted by the Coordinator and various volunteers from the bench and local bar association. Further training sessions are conducted throughout the year to allow new volunteers an opportunity to participate. All volunteers must be in good academic standing. Defendants are required to participate and may also return once their sanctions are completed. All volunteers are asked to comply with the program rules regarding academic standing, dress code, proper courtroom conduct, and strict compliance with the Confidentiality Oath.
What is the Teen Court process?
OFFENSE IS COMMITTED
A youth is charged with a law violation by law enforcement agencies.
REFERRED TO TEEN COURT
An initial determination is made by the State Attorney’s Office that the case appears to qualify for referral to Teen Court. The coordinator sets up a file for the case and an interview is scheduled for the minor and parent or legal guardian.
The Coordinator conducts an interview with the minor and his parents/guardians to explain the Teen Court program. The parties execute the participation agreement and waiver. The Coordinator may refer the family to other services if needed.
COURT DATE IS SCHEDULED
Offender and parents/guardians sign participation agreements and a court sanction date is scheduled. The coordinator sets the date, prepares copies of police reports or other paperwork generated by the referral agency. The parents/legal guardians must be present at the sanctioning hearing.
Youth who successfully complete Teen Court can have their records expunged, if they choose to do so.