What is Teen Court?
Teen Court is a cooperative effort between the City's Municipal Court and Grand Junction High School. Teen Court allows juvenile offenders between the ages of 12 to 18 to be sentenced for their crimes by a jury of their peers. In other words, the jury is comprised of teens who listen to both sides of the offender's and the victim's story and then decide what the sentence should be. In order to have his/her case heard in Teen Court the accused must admit that s/he is guilty. Teen jurors are asked only to determine the best punishment, not to determine guilt or innocence. This is not a mock court. All decisions are legally binding and if offenders do not comply, they are referred back to the school or Municipal Court for further punishment.
Who is elegible for Teen Court?
Any teen between the ages of 12 to 18 who has pled guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Municipal Code is eligible. The two ways that a teen can be referred to the program are through Grand Junction High School or Municipal Court. In either case, s/he must admit guilt and volunteer to attend Teen Court.
How Teen Court Works
After a teen is referred to Teen Court, s/he signs an agreement that s/he understands that his/her guilt is established and that decisions made by the teen jury are legally binding. His/Her parents must agree to allow him/her to participate in the program and also accompany him/her through the process.
The defendant will appear before a teen jury and will be represented by a teen "attorney." The prosecutor will also be a teen "attorney" and both attorneys will be assisted by adult attorney mentors.
The Municipal Court Judge will preside. Both sides are given the opportunity to present their case and make recommendations to the jury on sentencing. The teen attorneys may present evidence, statements, and witnesses for both sides. They will offer closing statements and recommendations to the teen jurors on sentencing. The teen jury decides the sentence. Sentences can include eight to 40 hours of Community Service, counseling, curfew, restitution, obeying parents, and future participation in Teen Court as a juror. Statistics show that teen jurors usually hand out stiffer sentences than their adult counterparts.
The Benefits of Teen Court
Teen Court has multiple benefits. The teen defendant is exposed to a jury of his peers. S/he must face his peers with the admission of wrongdoing. This has more impact than facing the Municipal Court Judge. The defendant faces his/her victim and they hear how their behavior affected someone else. It gives the defendant the opportunity to right the situation without him/her having a permanent court record.
Teen attorneys are mentored by adult volunteers. They learn orders of law and how the legal system works. Teen attorneys must meet with witnesses, mentors, victims, and prepare their cases. All phases of the experience present opportunities for learning and accomplishing adult tasks.
Teen jurors have a formidable obligation. They must listen to all evidence presented with an open mind. They must use their thinking skills to arrive at a reasonable sentence for the crime. They need to put aside their personal beliefs and biases to reach an unanimous decision. Adults that have served on a jury know the difficulty of this task. In this process teens learn about choices and logical consequences. They see first hand what can and will happen to them should they make the same negative choices.
Teen Court offers an alternative to tying up our court system and an alternative to schools for handling discipline problems. It has been shown to significantly reduce recidivism, provide timely intervention and hold youth accountable for their negative behaviors.