Teen Court a force for good
Greg Kelly took over the reins of the Vance County Teen Court program last September.
He brings to the position an interest in helping young people in the town where he grew up.
He sees Teen Court as a positive force in the community.
“It puts the spotlight on the kids that are doing good,” he said.
Teen Court tries actual cases. It’s different from criminal or juvenile court in that most of the participants are young people between the ages of 11 and 17 years.
The prosecutor, defense attorney and jurors are teenagers. Only the judge is an adult. A real-life judge or attorney fills that position. In Vance County, District Judge Amanda Stevenson and state Rep. Nathan Baskerville alternate in the role of judge.
A teenager charged with a misdemeanor can choose to be tried in Teen Court rather than in juvenile court.
“They have to admit guilt,” Kelly said. “Since they’re under 17, their parents also have to agree.”
Opting for Teen Court doesn’t necessarily result in a lighter sentence. Teen jurors tend to go for the maximum, Kelly said.
But there is a benefit that could have an impact on the youth’s future. Unlike juvenile court, Teen Court does not result in a criminal record. If the defendant carries out the sentence, the record is wiped clean.
The offenses that could bring a juvenile to Teen Court include non-violent misdemeanors such as communicating a threat, property damage under $500, shoplifting, fighting, or possessing drugs or alcohol.
It the teen jury finds the accused guilty, the sentence could include community service, restitution, an apology, counseling or a combination of sanctions.
“I just love the concept that minors who commit minor offenses are prosecuted by their peers, defended by their peers and judged by their peers,” Baskerville said.
Teen Court is held at 5:30 p.m. on first and third Tuesdays in the Vance County Courthouse. Typically, two cases are handled at a single meeting of Teen Court because, as Kelly said, “It’s a long process.”
Kelly wants to find other ways to guide young people away from mistakes that could mar their future, like school resource officers who provide security in schools..
“I hope to get to the SROs in the schools to help them work with kids instead of seeing them get suspended,” he said.
Baskerville thinks Teen Court is effective in keeping young people who make mistakes from getting into more serious trouble.
“I haven’t seen any kids who have been through Teen Court in regular court,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that it never happens, but I haven’t seen it.”
Kelly is a 1999 graduate of Southern Vance High School, where he played offensive tackle on the football team. He attended Winston-Salem State University, receiving a bachelor’s degree with a major in sports management and business administration.
For three years, he worked with the Franklin County unit of the Boys and Girls Club of North Central North Carolina.
“It’s been a good experience, working with the kids, working in Franklin County,” he said. “But I’ve always wanted to get back to Vance County.”
That opportunity occurred when a vacancy opened to coordinate Teen Court for the Henderson-Vance Parks and Recreation Department’s Youth Services Division.
Kelly is married to Eboni Fogg Kelly. They have a 14-year-old son and a 19-month-old daughter.
His parents are Leo and Alice Kelly of Henderson.
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