Recognizing that the most influential people in a teenager’s life are often peers, Seattle is adding its first Youth Traffic Court, set to convene for the first time this month. The court will be staffed entirely by Garfield High School students, who will serve as judge, jury, attorneys, bailiffs and court clerks. The students have all received training in these positions from Seattle University law students.
Any Seattle driver younger than 18 who admits to the traffic violation he or she is accused of may appear in Seattle Youth Traffic Court. Following the philosophy of restorative justice, the teen will be assigned some sort of community service rather than paying a fine. Once the service has been performed, the driving record of the teen will be wiped clean.
Seattle is only the latest amongst many cities and counties that have recognized the value of Teen Courts. Such courts, often referred to as Teen Courts, Youth Courts or Peer Courts, are one of the fastest growing juvenile prevention programs in the United States. At least 33 states currently have at least one Youth Court of some kind, with California, Florida, New York and Texas leading the pack.
Not all teen or youth courts across the nation resemble the Seattle model. For instance, both the Duval County, FL teen court and the Bastrop County, TX teen court handle all different types of misdemeanors for first-time young offenders, rather than just traffic violations. Another difference you may find in comparing teen courts is the level of involvement of the teens in running the court itself. While the Seattle Youth Court will be run almost entirely by teens, some courts simply have teen juries, while other alternative youth courts, like the Marin County, CA Juvenile Drug Court may simply offer alternatives to teen offenders without involving peers in the actual court process. Many states do not have any laws formally governing their Youth Courts, so be sure to check your local court’s Youth Court website for details in how it functions.
Keep watching Court Reference for more Youth Court and other alternative court resources in the future!