Teens have alternative to justice system
Teen Court is now in session, allowing first-time offenders to be given a sentence from fellow students. The court is open to any student at Moffat County High School (MCHS) and has undergone changes in the last two years.
According to Teen Court Coordinator and Secretary Stephanie Raschke, the court has been recreated this year to better accommodate students.
According to Craig City Attorney Sherman Romney, Teen Court is a sentencing court for youth whose cases were referred from Municipal Court or Moffat County Court.
It involves students as attorneys, a student jury and area attorneys as judges. According to Raschke, a junior at MCHS, any high school student can be an attorney or a jury member. In order for a student to become an attorney, they must attend a training session (which will be held today and Thursday) and take a test (which will be Oct. 12). The next court session will be at 6 p.m. Oct. 19.
“It is basically run by the students,” Romney said. “Hopefully, students will receive meaningful contact with the court system.”
According to Romney, the program is part of a national movement that began in Craig seven years ago.
Students get only one shot at Teen Court as it is not set up for repeat offenders or for those committing extreme crimes. Teen Court has the ability to preside over cases such as traffic infractions, some teen alcohol cases, shoplifting and curfew violations. According to Romney and Raschke, the majority of cases deal with speeding and minor accidents.
Criteria for approval of a case being entered into Teen Court relies on the accused pleading guilty in city or county court. It is then up to Romney and the district attorney’s office to decide if the case should be transferred to Teen Court. If their case is selected, students cannot pretend they are innocent since they have already stated their guilt. It is now dependent upon other students to handle the punishment. The final punishment depends on the severity of the case and can usually be completed within three months.
There are three parts in the sentencing process. The first is the educational component in which students are given instruction about their crimes. For example, a driving violation will require a course in defensive driving. The second portion deals with community service. Just as there are a wide variety of crimes there are also a wide range of community service activities. The final part of the sentencing involves students becoming jury members on other Teen Court cases.
Teen Court doesn’t cost guilty parties any money as any court fee is covered through operating grants.
Once a student completes the sentence, the crime is erased from his or her record. According to Romney, 99 percent of the sentences are completed.
Working as a part of the judicial system allows students to learn about the process first-hand while working on public speaking and debate skills.
Teen Court cases progress the same as an adult trial with opening arguments, questioning from both sides and the reading of the final verdict.
According to Raschke, Teen Court is looking for students interested in becoming an attorney or jury member for upcoming cases.
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