Teen Court gets under way today

Mar. 20, 2013 @ 07:48 PM

WARRENTON –– First-time juvenile offenders in Warren County will soon have an alternative to facing trial in juvenile court.

It’s Teen Court.

Teen Court court is different from the usual court. A real judge presides, but the lawyers, bailiffs and members of the jury are young people.

On trial are teenagers who are charged with a misdemeanor, have admitted their responsibility for the offense and choose to be tried in Teen Court rather than juvenile court.

“It’s an intervention program offered by the Youth Services Bureau,” said Debby Scott, director of youth services for the county.

Students serve as prosecutor, defense counsel, bailiff and jury.

The first “trial” will take place at 6 p.m. this evening in the Warren County District Courtroom with Judge Randolph Baskerville presiding. After that, the program will be on a regular schedule.

A schedule of every third Thursday each month follows.
“All of the students have been trained,” Scott said. “The only adult is the judge, in our case Judge Baskerville.”

After hearing evidence and arguments presented by lawyers for the prosecution and the defense, the jury retires to deliberate.

“One thing that has impressed me is how seriously the students on the jury take it,” Scott said. “They deliberate so well. We could learn something from them.”

The jury selects a sentence from a menu of possible penalties designed to demonstrate consequences of the offense, teach responsibility and discourage the youth from committing another crime.

“Teens have a tendency to accept it better coming from their peers,” Scott said. “It’s an educational opportunity at both ends.” For the offender, “it helps them be accountable and gives them encouragement.”

As for the other participants, they learn their individual roles while observing the judicial process in action.

“All the students are from Warren County schools,” Scott said. “We have students from the middle school, Early College, New Tech and the high school.”

The biggest bonus for offenders: If they complete the sentence imposed by the Teen Court jury, they will have no criminal charges on their record.

Although the young people are playing roles in Teen Court, this is not play. Real evidence is heard. The jury, teenagers themselves, decide on a sentence. Offenders who meet the requirements of their sentences will have clean records. If they fail to meet the requirements, they will be prosecuted in the criminal justice system.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.