Teen Court is a ‘positive alternative’
The courtroom was buzzing on Thursday evening, Feb. 3, as the first session of Tyler County Teen Court prepared to get underway. Parents, advisors and other spectators were on hand to support the court’s debut as Judge David W. Hummel, Jr. presided over a mock trial created and presented by Tyler County teenagers and their advisor, Melody Glasscock of Family Resource Network.
Teen Court is a program that is offered by many county courts across the nation. It is a program that offers teenage offenders an important second chance – a chance to learn from a mistake without the high cost and stigma of a criminal record.
Teen Court is a real justice program run by teens, for teens. Youths between the ages of 12-17 who have committed a misdemeanor offense appear before a jury of their peers. The teen in trouble must admit his or her involvement, since this is a disposition (sentencing) hearing only. Parental involvement is also necessary. The program gives parents and troubled teens another avenue to meet the requirements of the law and make amends in a positive way. It is also more cost-effective. Teen Court charges a fee of $25, whereas regular court cost is $185, making Teen Court a more affordable option.
Teen Court is offered as a positive alternative for youthful offenders in cases such as shoplifting, disorderly conduct, destruction of property and other misdemeanor crimes. It is a voluntary program which offers teens an orpportunity to make restitution for an offense through community service, specialized classes and jury service, thus avoiding fines and keeping the juvenile’s record clear. The program seeks to deter teens from future unlawful behavior while providing direct experience in the judiciary system. It also stresses the importance of being a productive citizen in the community.
“The business of the court is serious,” Judge Hummel told the courtroom. “It’s my honor to be here and participate in the program,” he added. “It’s an enormous boost to the community.”
The mock trial proceeded like it’s real-life counterpart, with the court being called to order by the bailiff, who introduced the judge and seated the jury. The charges were read and the “defendant” was represented by one of her peers appearing as defense counsel. On the prosecution side, another teen represented the state and presented its case.
The prosecution stated its case first, and called no witnesses, although a victim’s statement was read. The defense then called the defendant to the stand to testify. After her testimony was given, the state cross-examined the witness.
At the conclusion of the evidence, Judge Hummel gave his instuctions to the jury and they left to deliberate sentencing.
While the jurors were deliberating, Melanie Glasscock spoke to the courtroom about the Teen Court program. “It is a program of restorative justice,” she explained. “We focus on three things, accountability, skill development, and community safety.” She explained that teen court sentencing guidelines are a minimum of 16 hours and a maximum of 40 hours community service, with restitution at no more than $400. As part of the process, the teen must also participate as a juror on other trials. “It teaches the kids empathy, to know that someone else has gone through a similar situation,” she stated. She also noted that the project was a team effort, and thanked the judge and members of her advisory board, including Magistrate Mike Griffin, Family Resource Network Director Katrina Byers, Sheriff Earl Kendle, Jr., and Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee.
“The kids have done a fine, fine job,” remarked Judge Hummel. “It’s commendable that teens can take responsibility by going through Teen Court.”
Tyler County Teen Court youth participating in the mock trial were: Defense Attorney, Dan Grimm; Prosecuting Attorney, Jocelyn Reed; Baliff, Julian Work; Clerk, Jessica Reed; Respondent, Brooke Snyder; and Jurors Nikki Richardson, Brooklyn Pittman, Cheyenne Blizzard, Kia Barnhart, Amber Haught, Stephanie Wright, and Breanna Snyder.
After the presentation a small reception was hosted at the courthouse for Teen Court participants and friends by Ms. Glasscock and Family Resource Network.