• What is Teen Court?

    Date: 10.20.10 | by Judge Tom.

    Many jurisdictions around the country have teen courts.  These are voluntary, alternative programs that keep the first-time offender out of juvenile court and from establishing a record.  They are run by either the juvenile court, juvenile probation department or a school district.  Teen Court is staffed by teenagers who are volunteers from the community.  They act as the jury, prosecutor, defense attorney and bailiff.  The judge is an adult volunteer and may be a local attorney or judge.

    Photo by Paul De Los Reyes

    States differ in the requirements of teen court but generally persons between 10 and 18 may appear before the court.  It is voluntary and the person must be willing to admit what he or she is accused of doing.  Teen courts only deal with low level misdemeanors such as shoplifting, traffic violations, alcohol and tobacco offenses, disorderly conduct and minor criminal damage.

    Usually a teen may only appear before a teen court one time.  A major benefit of a teen court program is that it keeps the teen from getting a record for their first minor brush with the law.  To find out if  Teen Court exists where you live and if you’re eligible to participate in the program, talk to your school counselor or Google the name of your state and “Teen Court.”

    The teen jury is responsible for deciding the penalty.  The teen prosecutor argues for a certain penalty while the teen defense attorney pushes for a lesser consequence.  The jury discusses the case and arrives at a decision that is announced by the judge.  Consequences usually include community service, education classes and an order to serve as a juror in teen court.  Completion of all sentencing terms results in dismissal of the case.  If the teenager fails to complete his or her sentence, the case may result in the filing of formal charges in juvenile court.

    Read here about teen courts in Los Angeles and a new program that began in 2012 called “Stopping Hate and Delinquency by Empowering Students.”

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    4 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Teen courts hearing cyberbullying cases | reportergary.com
      Tue, 08 Mar 2011 at 08:44

      [...] courts or peer juries exist across the  country. See here for an explanation of a Teen Court’s function and jurisdiction. Generally, they are used for minor [...]

    • E
      Tue, 01 Nov 2011 at 08:06

      Hi, this question isn’t completely related but i’m not sure where else to ask. If i’m 18 and If i am charged with a first time offense of vandalism how much will the fine be? If I plead guilty will it go on my record?
      Dear E: The fine may depend on the amount of damage done and cost to repair the damage. There may also be an additional fee to pay depending on your state laws regarding vandalism. When you go to court for this, ask about the consequences if you admit the charge. If you plead not guilty and go to trial, the judge will decide the penalty if you’re found guilty. As far as your record, again it depends on the laws in your area. If you complete a diversion program for this, you won’t have a record. Otherwise, after a period of time, you can apply to the court to have your record expunged. Ask about this at court. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • joseph
      Tue, 08 Nov 2011 at 04:54

      When I 13 I was a follower and a teacher say me do it. They pressed no charges,but it was on my parents said its on my record. But a couple years later I still wounder would it still ne their
      Dear Joseph: It is possible that the incident on your record. It depends on how it was handled at the time of the offense. Contact the court and ask about this. Or your probation officer if you had one. If a record does exist, ask about applying to have it cleared. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Hannah
      Thu, 05 Jan 2012 at 05:24

      Is it porrible or me to do this, i stole 319 dollars from kohls with a friend who stole 207. they said if it was over 200 it would be a felony according to his boss, so we didnt get arrested but a cop did come. I have no record before and it was my first time… i regret it but at the same time i dont because if i didnt get caught i wouldve have done it again. I am going to be doing comunity service next year and was already plannign it and i wasnted a soccer scholorship but im afraid this might ruin my future. any help of what you think would happen and if i can still do the diversion program? I have really good grades and am in travel soccer WAGS D1 and i want to go to UNC or Beavers in Oregon…. and im afraid this might ruin my future…
      Dear Hannah: It’s up to the court and the law where you live whether “diversion” is available for this offense. There’s a good chance it is since this is your first offense. You’ll find out more when you go to court. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

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