The Fayette County Teen Court has conducted its first two hearings since the program's inception in the fall of 2018.
Teen court is a diversion and an alternate disposition program for juvenile offenders in grades 7-12, whose charges would be considered misdemeanors. Youth volunteers in the same grade bracket serve in all court roles, including defense attorney, prosecuting attorney, clerk, bailiff and jury. The youth volunteers receive community service hours for their effort.
Youth attorneys are mentored by practicing attorneys local to Fayette County.
According to a press release, the teen court jury does not determine guilt or innocence, but rather determines what consequences should result from the juvenile offender's actions. Juvenile offenders must voluntarily participate in the program. The teen jury determines how the juvenile offenders can repair the harm caused by their actions to themselves, their family and their community. Alternate disposition options include community service, serving on the teen court jury, prevention and education programs offered through the youth reporting center, essays, apologies and other options.
Referrals for teen court participation are received from Fayette County Schools, the Fayette County prosecuting attorney's office and law enforcement officers. Juvenile offenders and their parents/guardians may reject the disposition given by the teen jury, thereby returning the case to the referring agency for traditional disciplinary and juvenile justice proceedings.
On April 26, after multiple mock hearings, Judge Thomas H. Ewing began the first official teen court hearing for Fayette County through the Microsoft Teams virtual platform. Thirteen youth volunteers listened intently while case information was read and oaths were given, swearing all participants to keep the proceedings of teen court confidential. Two youth attorneys gave opening statements, directly questioned the offender and the parent, and gave closing statements before asking the teen jury to make a decision.
The teen jury members made their way to a separate virtual meeting to conduct jury deliberation, alongside Diane Callison, teen court coordinator, and Chuck Taylor, adult jury advocate, to answer any questions. When deliberation completed, all teen jury members returned to the main meeting to report their disposition to Judge Ewing. Thereafter, the juvenile offender and parent accepted the disposition and have three months to comply with orders.
On May 24, the Fayette County Teen Court held its second hearing in the same format, with E. Scott Stanton serving as judge. The juvenile and parent accepted the disposition and have three months to comply with orders.
Teen court will conduct its third hearing on June 28, moving to an in-person scenario at the Fayette County Courthouse in Fayetteville.
Youth interested in volunteering can complete the application at https://forms.gle/ZGgZPeciUjMXBFwE8.
For more information, visit http://www.fayettefrn.com/teen-court/ or the Facebook page Fayette County Teen Court.