On Saturday, August 24th, four students from our high school attended Teen Court of Greater Baton Rouge. Trip Flotte, Kyle Pitre, Cole Robertson, and Keegan Dipuma were able to explore the life of being a member of the criminal justice system. As a Teen Court volunteer, they were trained to serve as an attorney, juror, or bailiff. The teen attorneys, both prosecution and defense, review case facts. The defense interviews and prepares the defendant. Both make opening and closing statements and conduct direct and cross-examination. A juror listens to evidence presented in the case and determines a constructive sentence for the offender. A bailiff administers the oath to the jury and all people who testify. They also deliver the verdict form to the judge. Trip, Cole, and Keegan chose to train as jurors, and Kyle trained as a bailiff.
The cases heard are real and are referred to Teen Court by the District Attorney’s Office. Teen Court is a voluntary diversion program in which teens sentence their peers for first-time misdemeanor offenses. In Teen Court, peer pressure is used as a positive force that holds the teen offenders accountable for their actions, without the possibility of a criminal record. The D.A.’s office is notified, and the offender’s charges will be dismissed if they complete their constructive sentence requirements given by the Teen Court jury.
Hearings are held at Juvenile Court, usually held twice a month on Monday evenings. Volunteers participate in at least two hearings per semester. Licensed attorneys serve as judges, the teen jury determines a fair and constructive sentence, and the defendant has six months to complete the sentence. The benefits of being a part of Teen Court include positive peer pressure that sends clear messages to the offenders about their behavior and reduces the likelihood of repeat offenses, holds teen offenders accountable for their actions, and offers teens a leadership opportunity and helps them learn about the due process and restorative justice.