The Belknap County Teen Court seeks to prevent juvenile delinquency by holding youths responsible and accountable for their actions. We will work to educate and get youths more involved in the judicial process. Our mission will be achieved by having teens formal process tha emphasizes reverse peer pressure leading to the development of self-esteem and better decision-making skills.
In an attemt to combat juvenile delinquency and educate youth about the court process, Youth Services Bureau has introduced "Belknap County Teen Court". Teen Court is a collaboration between Youth Services Bureau, Belknap County Bar Association, local schools, area police departments and the Laconia District Court.
The Teen Court concept includes both an educational and prevention component. The youth offender and the volunteer students are influenced by both components. The prevention component emphasizes responsibility and accountability. The educational component familiarizes young people with the judicial process and allows them to participate directly in the proceedings.
In an actual court hearing, juvenile cases are heard by teen jurors and staffed by teen bailiffs and attorneys. This formal process is overseen by a real court justice and other trained adult volunteers. Training for the different teen roles will be provided by Youth Services Bureau and community adult mentors. Teen prosecuting and defense attorneys will present mitigating and aggravating circumstances relevant to the incident. Teen jurors will deliberate and pick an appropriate plan of accountability for the offender. All juvenile offenders will serve one or more times as a juror in an upcoming case. The Teen Court is considered to be a diversionary program and designed to be an alternative to the formal court process for youthful offenders.
GOALS OF THE PROGRAM
The Belknap County Teen Court Program benefits all involved--juvenile offenders/defendants/teen volunteers and the community at large. Advantages to the defendant include a trial by peers, constructive sentencces, forgoing a formal court appearance and a possible permanent juvenile record. Volunteers benefit from the exposure to the legal system and reverse peer pressure generated from the process. Volunteers also learn to deal with the responsibility of making decisions affecting the welfare of other juveniles. Teen Court will educate, enhance leadership skills, build self-esteem and develop productive citizens for the future. The community will benefit by having fewer youths involved in the more formal court process while seeing a reduction in juvenile crime.
TEEN COURT ELIGIBILITY
To be eligible for Teen Court, the youth must be a full-time student between the ages of 14 and 18. The youth must accept responsibility for the offense he or she is charged with commiting. Participation in Teen Court is strictly voluntary, and the defendant and his/her parent may be required to sign a waiver or release to gain entrance into the program. Cases referred to Teen Court will be screened by the Youth Services Bureau and will determine what cases are appropriate after meeting with the youth and his/her parent or guardian.
ROLES & RESPONSIBILITIES OF TEEN VOLUNTEERS
All functions in the Teen Court courtroom, except for the judge, are to be carried out by the youths, including the prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, court clerk, court bailiff and jurors. Sentences recommended by the jury are varied and flexible and are in accordance with the severity of the offense. Jurors may select from a variety of court-approved dispositions such as apologies, community service, restitution, research projects, Teen Court jury duty, etc.
The prosecuting and defending attorneys point out aggravating and mitigating circumstances to the jury, each arguing for their respective outcomes. The presiding judge will guide and make recommendations as needed. All volunteer court personnel and jurors must sign a volunteer agreement outlinging their obligations as well as an "Oath of Confidentiality". Training of attorneys and other court personnel is mandatory prior to serving on a case.