The American criminal justice system is not always all about determining guilt or innocence and then punishing the guilty. It recognizes that some “bad actors” can be deterred from embarking on a life of crime, and can be given a “second chance” through programs that don’t result in a criminal record. For examples, see our blog posts about Mental Illness Cases, Drug Courts, Veterans Courts, Family Dependency Treatment Courts, and Diversion. These “problem-solving” or “accountability” courts are not actual courts, but special programs that impose treatment, counseling, education, restitution, and community service in lieu of incarceration and a criminal record.
The juvenile justice system takes a special interest in keeping young offenders out of the criminal justice system. That’s because a juvenile or criminal record can make it difficult for them to turn their lives around, and incarceration can expose them to worse influences than they encounter among their age peers. Many courts have special Diversion Programs for juveniles. But because juveniles are a special case, their cases are most often handled not by specialized programs but by actual juvenile courts.
Traditional juvenile courts are a subject for their own blog post; here we examine courts that are staffed – jury, clerk, bailiff, prosecutor, and defense counsel – by the juvenile offender’s own age peers. Some Teen Courts even have a teen judge, although most place a local volunteer attorney or judge in that position. Teen Court members must attend training classes, and often pass a “bar exam” and be sworn in. We examined one such court in our post about Seattle’s Youth Traffic Court. Let’s take a look at some other Teen Courts – also known as Youth Courts – which handle more than just traffic cases.
Teen Courts operate on the “restorative justice” principle, in which the offender takes responsibility for his or her offense, makes amends to the victim and the community, and receives the assistance of the community in avoiding future offenses. As any parent can attest, teens tend to pay more attention to their age peers than to adults – including their parents. Teen Courts substitute an organized form of “peer pressure” for the traditional “do what the adults tell you” model. Not surprisingly, it works; recidivism rates for Teen Courts are significantly lower than those of traditional juvenile courts.
Teen Courts generally serve only first-time offenders charged with misdemeanors and infractions, such as minor theft, underage drinking, vandalism, disorderly conduct, and traffic tickets. Because the offender must accept responsibility, these courts operate as sentencing courts; the offender admits guilt, and the court decides the consequences – which may include restitution, community service, education, counseling, and serving on other Teen Court juries.
The Seattle Youth Traffic Court is not the only such court in Washington; take a look at Lake Forest Park Youth Court (limited to traffic cases) and the Island County and Whatcom County Teen Courts.
In Texas, some Teen Courts such as Killeen’s are limited to traffic cases, while others such as College Station’s and Texarkana’s handle more types of misdemeanors. Links to the many Texas Teen Courts may be found on CourtReference’s Texas Courts Guide; just scroll down the page and look for “Teen Court” links.
Other examples may be found in Anchorage, AK; Union County, OR; Santa Fe County, NM; Florida’s 4th, 6th, and 7th Judicial Circuits; Horseheads, NY; and Bureau County, IL. Be sure to check CourtReference’s guide for your state to find Teen Courts and Youth Courts in your own county or city.
Tags: Alaska · Court Systems · Courtreference.com · Florida · Illinois · New Mexico · New York · Texas · Washington
Last month we discussed judges (Justices of the Peace and Magistrates) who are not required to have law degrees, and whose courts have jurisdiction over areas larger than a city or town. Judges of city, town, village, and other municipal courts in many states are also not required to have law degrees or be practicing lawyers. These judges only have geographical jurisdiction over their own municipality, and in many states their subject-matter jurisdiction is limited to violations of the municipality’s ordinances.
We reviewed New York’s Town Courts and Village Courts in a 2010 post; with over 1200 such courts, New York has the highest number of non-lawyer judges in the United States. Some New York town and village judges may be lawyers, especially in larger towns, but most are not. Note that the City Courts located in larger cities of New York are part of the unified state judiciary system, and their judges must also be lawyers.
New York is not alone; 31 other states have municipal courts, and in most states their judges are not required to have law degrees. Only Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, and New Jersey require all their municipal judges to be lawyers. In other states, state law may not require all municipal judges to be lawyers, but some of them must be. For example, Texas – with over 900 municipal courts – does not require its municipal judges may be lawyers. However, individual Texas municipalities may require their judges to be lawyers by ordinance or charter provisions. Other states in which municipal judges’ qualifications are set by local ordinance or charter include Arizona and Oregon.
In North Dakota and Washingon, municipal judges in larger cities must be lawyers, while those in smaller cities need not be. In Oklahoma, judges in larger cities must be lawyers; those in smaller cities must be too, unless no local lawyer is interested in the position – in which case the mayor may appoint a non-lawyer. In Wisconsin, municipal court judges must be lawyers only when they preside over a joint municipal court.
Municipal court judges in all states must obtain some type of orientation and training; the amount required varies from state to state. In South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia, municipal judges who are lawyers do not have to attend as much training as their non-lawyer peers. In Georgia, most municipal judges must be lawyers, but non-lawyer judges who were on the bench as of June 30, 2011 may continue as long as they attend the same training classes as all other municipal judges.
Some local courts are called “Mayor’s Courts” but that doesn’t mean the mayor is automatically the judge too. In Louisiana, although the mayor is often the judge of Mayor’s Court, the mayor and board of aldermen will often appoint a magistrate to preside over court. While the mayor does not have to be a lawyer, an appointed magistrate must be a practicing lawyer. As we noted last month, magistrates in most states have jurisdiction over areas larger than a single municipality; Louisiana’s appointed magistrates’ jurisdiction, like mayors’, is limited to their municipality.
In Ohio, as in Louisiana, many municipalities have a Mayor’s Court, presided over by a mayor who does not have to be a lawyer. As in Louisiana, many mayors appoint someone to preside over their Mayor’s Court. Unlike Louisiana, the person appointed to preside over a Mayor’s Court in Ohio does not have to be a lawyer. Note that Ohio also has Municipal Courts, which sometimes have countywide jurisdiction, and whose judges must be practicing lawyers.
Delaware municipalities have Alderman’s Courts, and their presiding aldermen may or may not be required to be lawyers, depending on the provisions of the municipality’s charter. Wrapping up the list of municipal court judges who may also be local officials, municipal judges in Arkansas may be also be the non-lawyer mayor – but if the mayor decides to appoint a judge, that judge must be a lawyer.
Whether the judge of your municipal court is a lawyer or not should make no difference in the conduct of your case. The cases within their jurisdiction are usually violations of local ordinances – most often, traffic tickets – and don’t involve complicated questions of law. Decisions are most likely to turn on questions of fact, which don’t require legal training; after all, they are the questions juries must decide in other courts.
Whether your municipal judge is a lawyer or not, you can find the court’s contact information, as well as links to applicable online resources, at CourtReference.
Tags: Alabama · Arizona · Arkansas · Court Systems · Courtreference.com · Delaware · Georgia · Louisiana · Michigan · Mississippi · Montana · New Jersey · New York · North Dakota · Ohio · Oklahoma · Oregon · South Carolina · Tennessee · Texas · Washington · West Virginia · Wisconsin
February 16th, 2013 · 2 Comments
In recognition of social and criminal justice data, state courts are enforcing protective orders that include animals. 23 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have enacted laws that allow pets to be included in protective orders (AZ; AK; CA; CO; CT; HI; IL; LA; ME; MD; MA; MN; NV; NJ; NY; NC; OK; OR; TN; TX; VT; WA; WV).
Victims of domestic violence often delay departure from abusive relationships to prevent animal abuse. Offenders who commit domestic violence often threaten to harm or kill a family pet to prevent a victim from leaving, or punish one who has attempted to do so. In 12 independent studies, between 18% to 48% of domestic violence victims reported delaying a decision to leave or return to a batterer, out of concern for the welfare of their pets. As many as 71% of victims surveyed in women’s shelters reported that their batterer threatened, harmed, or killed a family pet. Source: The American Bar Association E-Newsletter, Animal Abuse Issue, Summer 2007 )
In light of the correlation between animal abuse and domestic partner violence, nearly half our state legislatures, courts, and law enforcement agencies have expanded and enforced protection orders to include animals endangered in abusive relationships. These protections range from granting sole care, custody and control of an at-risk pet to physical “no-contact” orders to removal of the animal from an abusive environment.
For the inclusion of pets in protective restraining orders to be truly effective, petitioners seeking safety must have options for their animals-temporary placement, foster care, adoption options, or pet-friendly domestic violence shelters. Most shelters cannot accept animals due to health and safety regulations, potential liability, space constraints, and cost.
In many communities, however, animal shelters, animal control agencies, veterinary clinics, and private boarding facilities have teamed up with domestic violence shelters to provide accommodations for victims’ pets. The American Humane Association and the Humane Society of the United States offer national directories of “safe havens” where endangered animals in abusive environments can be placed temporarily or long-term. Many programs at the state and local level are being established as well-not only to offer temporary pet shelter, but to provide cross-reporting and cross-training to legal professionals, victim advocates, and animal welfare organizations.
Much more needs to be done, however. Only 23 of our states currently have protection order laws that include potential animal victims in domestic violence situations. More awareness of the animal abuse/domestic violence connection must be raised to promote safety for all vulnerable members of an abusive household. For information on restraining and protective orders in your jurisdiction, select the Self Help and Legal Research category for your state and county on CourtReference.
Tags: states · Uncategorized