Teen Court was conceived as a result of discussions between the Superior Court Commissioner assigned to juvenile offender matters and Northwest Youth Services about new methods of providing community service, ways to give offending juveniles a chance to give back to their community, to make them aware of the consequences of offending, and to address shortcomings in traditional diversion cases. The result of these discussions is the Whatcom County Teen Court.
Begun in 1998, this program offers a more meaningful experience for youthful offenders charged with minor misdemeanors as well as providing non-offender youth a chance to participate in a community service project directly affecting their peers. The program goals include:
A better understanding of the effects of the offense
Creating a new avenue of community service for offenders
Providing the offender with a chance to give something back to the community
Reinforcing the sense of responsibility that each individual should feel toward their the community
Shortening the time needed to resolve charges
Teaching the application of community standards to offenses against the community
Teen Court Cases
Teen Court generally hears cases involving youth who are facing a 2nd discretionary diversion or who failed a traditional diversion contract. The offenses involved are misdemeanors, and do not include offenses involving weapons, domestic violence or gang activity. The offender admits to the offense, as in traditional diversion, and then goes before a jury of high school students charged with determining the penalties to be assessed.
The jury is made up of a mix of non-offender volunteers and those who previously had their own charges resolved in teen court. High school students serve as advocates, presenting the case to the jury on behalf of the state and the accused. Other students may serve as bailiffs, clerks, and in other capacities as needed. Volunteer attorneys from the community act as judges and as mentors to the advocates. Teachers from the schools act as advisors to the youth teams.
Teen Court is usually held on the 2nd Wednesday of the month but may be held on the 1st Wednesday in April and June, depending on school calendars. Please confirm the dates with Cathy Beaty at Northwest Youth Services. An advisory board made up of students from each participating high school, community members, a representative from law enforcement and representatives from the Juvenile Court and Superior Court bench oversees the program and makes policy for the Teen Court.
The Whatcom County Teen Court has received the Liberty Bell Award from the Whatcom County Bar Association and the Ken Gass Founders Award from the Whatcom County Commission on Children and Youth. Student participants have presented mock trials and represented the program at the District 5050 Rotary Conference, the Washington State Conference on Youth Courts, and the Bellingham Bay Rotary Club.