Teen Court is a juvenile diversion program created for juveniles who have no prior juvenile court record and who have committed a minor violation of the law. In a Teen Court proceeding, juveniles between the ages of 11 and 16, who commit certain minor misdemeanor infractions (such as shoplifting, minor in possession of alcohol, possession of marijuana, etc.) who are willing to admit responsibility at the outset, testify as to their guilt before a jury of high school-age teenagers (the â€œTeen Juryâ€). Following the youth offenderâ€™s testimony, the Teen Jury questions him/her, as well as his/her parent(s) or guardian, regarding the event that brought the juvenile to court, as well as any other relevant issues that may potentially put the juvenile at risk for further unlawful behavior, such as school attendance, home behaviors, and drug and alcohol use. Based upon the answers to the Teen Juryâ€™s questions, the Teen Jury then determines an appropriate disposition, or juvenile sentence, for the juvenile offender. Dispositions, which cannot involve any form of detention, typically include a requirement of no new delinquent behavior, community service, oral and/or written apologies, restitution if applicable, maintenance of acceptable school attendance and grades, and may also include, if applicable, mandatory participation in counseling services, drug screens and an on-line shoplifting prevention program. If the juvenile offender successfully completes the disposition imposed by the Teen Jury, the case is not formally charged and thus, the juvenile will not have a juvenile record for the offense.
The current Teen Court program is a collaboration between the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and the Detroit Public Schools ("DPS"). As a result, a number of DPS high schools serve as venues for the Teen Court program. In 2015, for example, six DPS high schools (Martin Luther King, East English Village Preparatory Academy, Communication & Media Arts, Western International, Douglas Academy for Young Men and West Side Academy Alt. Ed.) held Teen Court sessions at least one time per week in a classroom at the school. Teen Court jurors are students from the high schools where Teen Courts are held, who have elected to take a course in law which incorporates the Teen Court program into the class curriculum and utilizes it as a teaching tool in conjunction with traditional classroom instruction.
From the juvenile offenderâ€™s perspective, Teen Court allows a juvenile a â€œsecond chanceâ€ to avoid having a juvenile record. Equally important, however, is that the juvenile is compelled to accept responsibility for his/her actions at the â€œfront-endâ€ of the process and receives consequences (community service and restitution, for example) and remedial services (tutoring, counseling, etc.) that are fashioned and explained to him/her in an impactful way by juveniles who are the offenderâ€™s true peer group. The Teen Juryâ€™s ability to relate to the youth offender also lends itself to a more meaningful determination of consequences for the youthâ€™s delinquent behavior. Perhaps it is not surprising then, that it has been demonstrated across the country that juveniles whose cases are heard in Teen Court often have a lower recidivism rate than youths who go through the formal court system.
At a minimum, the Teen Court program serves to educate juveniles about the juvenile justice system. However, it certainly does much more than that. It also encourages teens to take an active role in the community in which they live and provides them an opportunity to participate in a responsible and meaningful way to affect positive change in real life cases. Moreover, it provides an opportunity for the jurors to reflect upon, and learn from, the poor choices that other juveniles have made, without having to make the same mistakes themselves.
Please call Brian Morrow or Danton Wilson for further information regarding the Tean Court program. Mr. Morrow and Mr. Wilson can be reached at 313-833-3400.