Teen Court: A Second Chance for Young Adults

Article excerpt

Teen Court is a Texas Judicial Court operated by teenagers to assess the punishment phase for a crime committed by a teenager (Class C misdemeanors only).

It is a second chance for a teenager, who with his or her parent(s) accepts a guilty verdict from the referring judge (Municipal Court or Justice of the Peace) and is then adjudicated to a court of peers for the punishment phase of the crime. Because teens play all the roles, teen offenders take the decisions of the Court very seriously,

A community Teen Court has been established for the Texas cities of Friendswood, Pearland, Manvel, and Alvin under the auspices of the local "Y" (the Tricounty YMCA). Funded by the "Y," the program drew teenagers from the local junior and high schools, trained them in procedures and decorum befitting the court, and conducted the first area Teen Court last February 5. The Court tried 16 cases in February and 15 cases in March as referred from nine area courts.

Offenses heard by the court include fighting in school, truancy, and minor in possession, and in some cases, traffic violations. The premise of the program is based on the fact that juvenile crime in America is rising. The goal of the program is to prevent future illegal behavior by placing the responsibility upon the offender and by positive peer pressure.

As a case is presented to the teen jurors, a Defending Attorney (DA) pleads on behalf of the teen offender for a lighter sentence due to the presentation of evidence and circumstances that were beyond the control of the juvenile (under the age of 17) that could have contributed to the crime.

The teens that staff the Court try to listen for factors at home, school, work, or play that may be causing the teen's problems. The DA, the offender's friend in the courtroom, attempts to convince the jury that the teen has his or her side of the story to be considered before the assessment of the punishment. The offender is the only witness to plead his or her case; teens believe the offenders will talk more freely without parents or school officials present.

The Prosecuting Attorney (PA) attempts to establish the fact to the jury that the teen offender was aware of the wrongful act, could have chosen another course of action to avoid confrontation (i.e., fighting in school) or a solicitation of adult help to avoid the violation of the law.

The PA strives for a maximum punishment. (The jurors have guidelines for punishment assessment.) The PA places the responsibility of the wrongful act back on the teen offender. …