Part 199- Court from a Teen Attorney’s Perspective

Part 199- Court from a Teen Attorney’s Perspective

Introduction

I’ve spent almost a year now, participating in Teen Courts. I’ve spent a few months, maybe half a year at least, being an attorney for two of them. Each time I show up, it’s always different. Same format, same cycle, same procession, but each case is different. Not every theft is the same. Not every speeding is the same. Nor is every fighting in public case. I’ve seen only a few of each, truthfully, but I can tell you honestly that each is different. Not every defendant shares the same story as the one before them, even if they are the same age and the same offense. I’ve spent nights listening and arguing stories of a wide range, and under this I’ve discovered a few things. With this, I ask that you allow me to share mine.

Reality crushes Expectations

Albeit, my first impression of teen court was rather stereotypical. Kids were being stupid and got caught. I have learned, now, that that is far from the truth sometimes. I was mostly afraid, focused more on me messing up and my impressions, rather than most other things. It was wrong, no doubt. I figured most kids would be older, maybe my age. They would be a little reckless and so they found themselves in Teen Court.

Most of the cases I saw were kids my age, and also younger. It was kinda rare to see a kid much older than me, this is within the teenage age gap up to 18 see, and it kind of surprised me. Although I was mostly right on the idea that most kids were, well, acting recklessly and stupidly. I saw that some kids were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of them may have acted out before, but learned quickly to quit before they got caught, and found themselves in court for an entirely different reason altogether. Some kids, especially with speeding cases, just got caught without realizing they were committing an offense. Simple reasons such as being late for school and the sheer panic of a strict school with strict punishments, and even a kid who was just so thrilled with something prior that they didn’t realize they were speeding. There were some kids who committed an offense in an attempt to stand up for themselves, and were afraid to get in trouble. There were so many different stories and incidents it was really dawning. I think what I really saw throughout this, was fear. Fear from me about how these kids, my age and even younger than me were getting into these situations. I really wondered what made them do something like this, what would have affected them so much to do so, and I felt really bad for them.

More than an activity

I volunteer for two courts; one in Southlake one in Irving. There’s a judge who I’ve had for my cases every time I’ve volunteered for Irving. It’s kind of uncanny, really, but I feel like I’ve grown and actually learned a tremendous amount from them over the months I’ve been an attorney. They’re absolutely brilliant, while altogether strict and very passionate. Oh I’m semi-terrified of them, goodness yes, but I think that makes me admire them more. You see, every time we finish a case, not just each night but for EVERY single case, what they do is talk to the defendant. This is usually when the jury presents the sentence to the defendant, and they stand with their defense attorneys in front of the judge. Along with this, the judge takes time to explain the severity of their case. They share personal stories, from their life growing up and how dangerous it was to tidbits of information from the present day. And while I’ve heard most of these stories most often despite them being for the defendant to hear, I can’t help but also be thoroughly engaged when listening, because following each story, is a lesson. While the judge is incredibly strict and expects good manners and court behavior, I can see how they genuinely care for each defendant. They tell each defendant earnestly, hoping that while the defendant may not have cared too much to actually be helpful during the case or really take it seriously, they might at least listen to what they have to say and think about it. And, I think that’s really respectable. The judge doesn’t have to do it, in fact they’re the only judge I’ve seen do that so far, but they choose to because they genuinely hope for the defendant to take the offense as a warning, and an opportunity to start over and not make this mistake again.
There was this one kid I defended recently, just a few years younger than I, who actually wanted to be a lawyer as well. They were a nice kid, truthfully, as they were incredibly respectful to us defense attorneys, even if most weren’t or didn’t have to, and made sure to be as clear as they could be when telling us descriptions of the events that took place, their personal activities and school behavior and such. They were ambitious in pursuing law, having been accepted into this program that would help them learn more, and the fact they were already active in the community service field before being required to do so. Defending them really made me think, a lot about myself and them. I saw just how disastrous one small misstep could become, not only for the present but the potential future. This kid, they were a good kid, not really have been in fights or anything wrong before this offense, but just happened to get caught up in something that ended wrongly for them. If they weren’t a juvenile, their offense could have been disastrous for their future. For their acceptance into this law program, for their opportunities to achieve greater things. I really felt for them, and really for the number of other cases I had seen before. I realized, I could be one of them. I could accidentally be speeding without realizing it, maybe get caught up into a fight despite never having problems before, who knows. It’s frightening. I realized just how much of a blessing Teen Court is. More than a chance to erase a mistake made, a way to start over and change, more than a simple volunteering activity, than a courtroom experience, more than an opportunity to develop sound debating, reasoning, and argumentative skills for one. But also a greater chance to just learn. Learn about my current generation, the kids who experience things I don’t and do, how we all perceive it differently and the ways we react differently. A way for us to just depend and rely on each other. Help each other out, be more empathetic than adults than other law systems ever could be. Because, really, who understand teens better than teens themselves? Teen Court is more than solidly a foundation for kids to get a change to learn before going into the real world, but also just a way to actually be bale to see and rely on your fellow teens and in a way, in the least wanted way possible, connect with them. At least, that’s what I feel.

Maybe some of the attorney’s I’ve worked with could care less. Maybe to them this is really just a way to gain experience and volunteer hours. But to me, I think it’s surpassed that. I really want to help these guys out. I want them to learn from this, to the best they can. Help them through it, so they can hopefully pursue the ambitions and dreams they also want to pursue. Maybe it’s a small dream, they think it’s insignificant or not worth enough to work for, but i still want to help them be able to reach those. I know most kids through this program could care less. They’d just have to be more careful next time since they got away with an easy let go through the Teen Court program the first time. But still, I hope that in whatever way I do participate, I can somehow, maybe so, make a small difference that can help them.

Conclusion

So it’s more than just an after-school activity. More than that. I think it’s just transcended into something I genuinely love doing. I mean, yes it’s absolutely draining to work two maybe three cases for 4, maybe more hours straight following school, but I feel like it’s rewarding, in the end, where I can successfully get a lower minimum sentence for a defendant, or be able to contribute a significant number of hours for the defendant that would genuinely help them. And I realize, it may be a little strange to find excitement in this. Real cases, or real teens my age who are doing drugs or getting in fights. But, I feel like altogether, it’s just a way for us teens to help each other out, an din a way, it’s a relief to just you know, be contributing something that could ultimately help change their life for the better. Maybe it’s too much to think about, I’m overachieving, taking too much out of it. But really, I think Teen Court’s been one of teh greatest things for me to participate in. Really. And I genuinely hope I can keep doing it until college, maybe longer, to grow and learn, and really, just be there to make a difference.

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