Teen Court is an diversion and early intervention program for youth offenders from grades 7th to 12th. The offenses heard in Teen Court could be anything considered a misdemeanor if processed through the traditional court system which could include shoplifting, disorderly conduct, or vandalism. But the program can also hear smaller offenses like traffic violations or use of tobacco products in the school system.
This program is based on the philosophy that a youthful law violator does not continue to be an offender when a peer jury decides punishment.
Participation in this program is entirely voluntary and must have parental or guardian consent. A $25 fee is paid by each youth offender.
Youth offenders learn to take responsibility for their actions. The program represents a way for youth to actively participate in an informal court process and learn from their mistakes. These cases are handled on a timely basis and free up time and funds for the Circuit Court system to handle more serious offenses.
How does a Teen Court work?
In Teen Court, the Judge introduces the youth offender to the jurors who are within the same grade bracket as the offender (7th through 12th). After hearing the evidence presented by a teen prosecutor and defense attorney, the jury considers the appropriate sentence.
Two required sentences are community service (a minimum of 16 hours, a maximum of 40 hours) and serving on the Teen Court jury for 2 other cases. Past those two requirements, other possible sentencing options could include an apology letter, paying restitution, attending prevention or education programs, etc.
The clerks, bailiffs, prosecuting and defense attorneys, and all jurors, are all Fayette County youth volunteers.
Eligible Offenses for Teen Court include:
- Minor traffic violations
- Misdemeanors such as public intoxication, shoplifting, criminal damage to property under $300, vandalism, disorderly conduct
- Minors in possession of alcohol or simple possession of marijuana
- Simple assaults
- Others as identified
Teen Court sentences are designed to fit the offense and involve restitution, community service, and prevention education. A typical sentence could be any of the following:
- Teen Court Basic Training
- Apology (written, oral, or both)
- Community Services
- Research Paper
- Prevention or education program
The youth offender may accept the sentence assessed by the teen jury, or reject the sentence and elect to go back to their referral source for traditional disciplinary actions.
What are the benefits of Teen Court?
To the Youth Offender:
- Interruption of a potential pattern of inappropriate behavior
- Improvement of self-esteem resulting from successful completion of the program
- Accountability. An opportunity for a young person to avoid a criminal record
To the Community:
- Service to the community that benefits the entire community
- Dramatic reduction in the number of repeat offenders
- Reduction of the case load in the juvenile justice system
To the Schools:
- Judgment of a teen by their “peers” which in many cases has more powerful impact than adult discipline
- A positive alternate for students who have stepped “off track” for the first time
To the Student Volunteers:
- Involvement in redirecting peers
- Improvement of public speaking and advocacy skills
- A better understanding of the judicial system through hands-on participation
- Reinforcement of good citizenship