Part 168- Teen Court

Recently I’ve been participating in something called Teen Court. No it’s not because I’m in trouble. (I have a funny story about that that I’ll mention later.) It’s because I wanted to see the court process as well as practice making decisions on serious things. Although Teen Court doesn’t deal with cases such as murder or kidnappings, they do deal with things that are serious for teens. Ex: Drug paraphernalia, speeding, assault, etc.

I’ve seen the process twice now, which I am extremely lucky to have. When I first applied I accidentally misunderstood the purpose and though that I had to have some class C misdemeanor to participate. I got extremely anxious and the court supervisor calmed me down and offered me the opportunity to observe the trials. I went for the first time and witnessed two of their more serious cases. Those include an official court and attorneys who argue for your case. I have mad respect for those attorneys. I remember seeing 2 girls who absolutely amazed me. One of them completely wiped the case clean. She presented her case so calmly and was so cool in her rebuttals. I was really impressed with how she performed. The other wasn’t as powerful as the other, but she still had a really interesting way of asking questions. I also liked how she presented her argument and how she concluded.

The second time I went was last week. I had asked after the first two cases were over if I could come back in to watch once again. However, instead of just observing, the court supervisor allowed me to also participate in the process as this was a more minor case. This is something I’m extremely grateful for. When I signed up there were 90 other kids in front of me. I had been expecting to get an actual opportunity maybe in December or so, but I was lucky and got to go before my time. It was really exciting but also scary. I had never participated in something like this before and didn’t know what to do.

Let me explain how Teen Court works. ( I don’t remember the exact process of the first cases I saw, so I’ll do my best to explain.) I participate in the Southlake Town Hall Teen Court System, so it may be different or similar to other courts.

“Welcome to Volunteer Southlake.” Welcome to Volunteer Southlake | Southlake, TX - Official Website, https://www.cityofsouthlake.com/97/Volunteer-Southlake



 So there are two different kinds of ways a case is handled. For the more serious offenses such as underage alcohol possession or consumption or drug paraphernalia, there are trials with attorneys. After the jury and defendant take an oath, the offense first states their case. Then the defense. After that there’s a closing statement given to the jury and a final statement the defendant can give to explain themselves if wanted. The jury then goes into another room where they all make a decision. In Teen Court there aren’t really punishments. There is a minimum and maximum amount of volunteer hours given based on the severity of the offense as well as a certain number of jury terms. This is usually set by judges and cannot be changed. The jury makes a decision to assign the defendant a number of hours between that range according to what they have seen and then announce the decision once agreed upon.

For the other type of cases, the defendant and their guardian sit with a group of jurors and a supervisor. The jurors ask the questions instead and the defendant answers. The supervisor asks if there’s anything the defendant wants to say, and then the bailiff escorts them out of the room as the jurors make a decision. I was one of the jurors who got to ask a few questions and make a decision. In this I think something I learned was paying attention to every detail. We have to take in everything we’ve learned from the defendant, their case, and the given circumstances to make a decision. A decision made for one of the cases was based on a small detail I forgot to take into account for. Although a different decision seemed the better one in my opinion, it was that small detail that made the final more reasonable with a better mindset kept for the defendant. 

“Welcome to Volunteer Southlake.” Welcome to Volunteer Southlake | Southlake, TX - Official Website, https://www.cityofsouthlake.com/97/Volunteer-Southlake



I think Teen Court is a good system. I like how it’s giving an opportunity for kids to correct their options in a way that can help them learn and give them a second chance. Instead of sending them to juvenile detention or something similar for their actions, it’s letting them get a decision made by kids of their age to decide for themselves. It allows kids who have been in their shoes to do the same. (Here’s the funny story)

So during my last interaction there was a short break in between the next case and everyone was talking about speeding tickets. I realized then that all these kids were completing their volunteer service hours by participating in this trial. They all were discussing what they were there for. Except me. The kid in front of me asked what speed I was going at and I told him I didn’t drive. He asked whether I assaulted someone. I said I was there to observe. The kid just nodded his head. Anyways, I just felt good/awkward that I was the only one without an offense. I didn’t really realize the majority of the jurors would be kids trying to complete their offenses.

Moving on. It just allows kids who have been in the same situation as them to make a decision based on experience and a similar mindset to help. On an unrelated note, the craziest takeaway from that last experience was that I actually found out one of them is an upperclassman at my school. Here’s how it goes. I see him on Tuesday for the court, and then two days later as I walk to math I see him walking the other direction with his friends. I almost double-take to make sure it was him. IT WAS. I saw him the day after that in the fine arts hall. And now I see him almost every day in some way. I mean, a Pok√©mon backpack and tall figure is noticeable in the crowd, right? Every time I see him, I can’t help but think, “Oh, there’s the kid from court who got pulled over for speeding. Huh. Wonder if his friends know.”

In terms of whether Teen Court is a good or bad influence, I would say good. It does several things, including giving kids a second chance, time to volunteer, learn about the law, and a learning opportunity to make better decisions. Although I’m not participating because of some offense. It's a great learning opportunity for me- or other potential lawyers/attorneys- to learn more about law and court. For me I can learn how court works and the sort of decisions made based on presented evidence and arguments. It can help to learn how to take everything into consideration when making a decision, and making the best choice. I think I can definitely learn a lot about the court from these opportunities in order to become a better attorney.

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