El Dorado County Teen Court seeking youth volunteers in South Lake Tahoe
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE— Adults who find themselves on the wrong side of the law have a right to be tried by a jury of their peers. Juveniles generally don’t have that same right. But in El Dorado County Superior Court they do. Originally created in 1992, the county’s Teen Court program is run by teens, for teens, with real consequences.
“They’re the jury,” said program coordinator Jorge Orozco. “The students run the court like any real court.”
The program is an alternative for first-time juvenile offenders of minor crimes, including issues like shoplifting, and marijuana or alcohol possession.
“It’s got to be first-time offenders and misdemeanors,” Orozco said, describing qualifying offenders. “No serious crimes.”
Juveniles who elect to go to Teen Court are then subject to the decisions of a jury of their peers, grades 8-12. They are also defended and prosecuted by peer volunteers.
Orozco explained that offenses come with certain mandatory sentences, but juries can also impose additional consequences.
“The jury determines what sentence,” he said. “We encourage them to be creative.”
Punishments range from drug and alcohol counseling to writing letters of apology or reports regarding their crime.
A county court judge oversees the proceedings.
“There are so many benefits,” Orozco said, explaining the program. “Studies show that when (juveniles) get judged by their peers, future compliance with the law is higher.”
Explaining why he believes the program has been successful, Orozco added, “The jurors hold defendants accountable. I think (juvenile offenders) pay more attention to what their peers say.”
The El Dorado County Teen court will accept new applicants to take part in their spring program. Interested volunteers, grades 8-12, will need to take part in a training session scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 21, from 5-6 p.m. in the county superior court building in South Lake Tahoe. Prior registration is not necessary. Volunteers can fill out and submit applications at the training.
“They learn how real attorneys prepare cases,” Orozco said of process. “They don’t have to become a defendant to learn about the system.”
The program is geared toward any student interested in learning more about the juvenile justice system. Volunteers act as jury members and court officials for Teen Court proceedings to be held February through May. The court also hosts a fall program, which generally starts in either September or October.
“There are so many benefits,” Orozco said.
Participants can log volunteer service hours as a part of the program, learn public speaking skills and also add it to their resumes for college applications.
More information is available on the El Dorado County website, http://www.edcgov.us.
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