Saturday, October 10, 2009
Teen Court is a unique and highly successful approach to juvenile crime. In Colorado Springs, the program provides an alternative to the regular Municipal Court sentencing for first-time misdemeanor offenses committed by young people between 11 and 18 years of age. In Teen Court, peers tell the defendant that his or her crime is “not OK,” and give the defendant a sentence that, hopefully, will make him or her stop and think when the next temptation to commit an offense occurs. The result is that only 14% of the teens who are sentenced through Teen Court break the law a second time.
Referrals to Teen Court
Referrals are made to Teen Court by the City Attorney’s office and Municipal Court judges. Not every case is eligible for Teen Court. We do not accept any cases involving gangs or weapons and other limitations may be imposed from time to time.
Specifics of the Colorado Springs Teen Court program
* Teen Court is a voluntary program
* Defendants must plead guilty in order to participate
* A parents or guardian must be present at all stages of the program
* Juveniles are sentenced by a jury or panel of teenagers
* By completing the Teen Court sentence and staying out of trouble, juveniles walk away with a dismissal
Teen Court sessions:
In Teen Court, an appropriate sentence is decided by the defendant’s peers. Sessions are normally held on Tuesdays between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. In Colorado Springs, the program provides two procedures to determine a defendant’s sentence in Teen Court and both are conducted by trained high school volunteers:
Teen Court Trial is usually used to sentence older defendants who have committed more serious crimes. This is a formal, rather dramatic, sentencing hearing in which an adult judge presides. High school students (with an adult attorney present as a mentor) take the roles of defense and prosecution attorneys. A jury of the defendant’s peers determines the sentence within Teen Court guidelines.
Teen Court Peer Panel is for defendants, often younger ones, who have committed minor offenses. This procedure includes a less formal courtroom setting where the panel of student volunteers questions the defendant and then has a similar but separate dialogue with the parent or guardian. The student volunteers on the Peer Panel determine the sentence using Teen Court guidelines.
Philosophy of Restorative Justice:
Sentencing in Teen Court is based on the philosophy of Restorative Justice.
The three goals of Restorative Justice are:
* Competency development
* Community safety
All sentences include community service and jury duty in a subsequent Teen Court trial. Many sentences include apology letters, essays and classes or workshops designed to help defendants develop good decision making skills, improve their ability to work through conflicts or anger, realize the necessity of education to achieve an acceptable lifestyle as an adult, improve their feeling of self worth, etc. Each sentence is based on the individual’s needs and circumstances. When a defendant completes the sentence, the charges are dismissed. The defendant walks away with new skills, better respect for the law, and a clean record.
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