As long time readers know, I’ve done far too many things in my life. It seems that I have been everywhere and done all the things. I have done so many things that I had nearly forgotten something I did in my senior year of high school. As I recall, I was working for the state senate in the Spring so I wasn’t as involved in the program but in the fall of 2005, I worked with the City of Arvada alternative sentencing program called “Teen Court.”
How it worked
For kids that had been arrested for minor crimes, Teen Court was an alternative sentencing program available through the municipal court of the town I grew up in. It is a national program and court systems at the city and county level participate nationwide. The City of Arvada operated their Teen Court program on Wednesday nights. For me, this meant doing Teen Court and then frequently driving to church right after for mid-week Bible study.
Instead of sentencing these kids (12–19) through the regular court system, they would be sentenced to an “alternative sentencing program.” Teen Court was that program. It was our job to decide what punishment (community service or restitution) that these youthful defendants would pay. Everything was supervised by a real lawyer acting as a judge and the program coordinator. The most fun part was that we got to use the municipal court room in City Hall!
In the program, there would be a “prosecutor,” “defense,” and a jury of 6 teenagers. We would get a case file that usually just had the police report and little else. Sometimes we got cases in advance but often, we wouldn’t see cases until the day they were to be tried. We would read the case reports and then speak to the young people and the parents. Dealing with the kids was hard enough but dealing with worried parents who were just glad that this program was available was the most difficult part.
After the defense had consulted with the defendant, we would consult with the prosecutor and talk about witnesses, evidence, and questions. We tried to be sensitive and accommodate everyone has best we could. I remember one young person who couldn’t really talk in public in front of people and submitted written answers instead, leaving the prosecution to do very little. The answers were read out for the jury.