Teen Court brings new opportunity for QU students
By Emma Hoyt
Alexia Ginter is a freshman criminal justice major and is ready to give Adams County juveniles another chance.
“Teen Court is a program that allows teens to get experience under their belts in the law world, and the offending teens to stay out of the system. It’s a win win for everyone,” Ginter said.
Teen Court is for first-time juvenile offenders who commit non-violent crimes and plead guilty. These offenders appear in court in front of a jury of their peers, who will decide their consequences. The Adams County States Attorney’s Office refers cases to Adams County Teen Court.
Violations seen in court include offenses like traffic violations, underage alcohol consumption and theft.
“By doing Teen Court, I’m able to be in the role of the people who would be a part of my career. Also, it looks amazing on a resumé, and it’s another way for me to help the community,” Ginter said.
Consequences or ‘remedies’ as Adams County Teen Court calls it, include things like: community service hours, serving on Adams County Teen Court in the future as a juror, or even an apology to the victim of the crime.
College and high school student volunteers fill the roles of the traditional court personnel.
“We go through a whole official court proceeding. The teens gets to be the jury, attorneys, clerk, and bailiff. After the trial is over, the jury hands down a positive punishment that is used to deter future bad behavior,” Ginter.
Ginter isn’t the only teen court volunteer from Quincy University. Clairice Hetzler, Adams County Teen Court administrator and QU criminal justice, human services and sociology professor, and Jamie O’Neal, administrative assistant and senior QU student, both volunteer their time.
Hetzler and O’Neal supervise the teen juries, advise teen attorneys, and meet with the defendants and their families to schedule court and make sure the participants complete the program by fulfilling their sentences.
“Teen Court does not determine guilt or innocence, but rather holds their peers accountable for their actions. We have our teen volunteers focus on three questions: How can you hold the offender accountable for his or her offense? How can you help the offender repair the harm to all the victims? What does the offender need to become a more productive member of the community?” O’Neal said.
This program allows teens to develop critical thinking skills, receive court training, help restore offenders to the community, and impose community based sentences.
“This really educates everyone involved on building positive relationships with peers and adults rather than just punishing a crime,” O’Neal added.
Juveniles will be given a teen court date and the jury of their peers will choose a restorative justice remedy after hearing each case. The remedy must be completed within 90 days of the hearing. If the youth offender successfully completes the remedy assigned, no charge is filed. Failure to complete the remedy within the assigned time may lead to possible prosecution.
Teen Court has had only one court appearance, due to weather cancellations, but Ginter is ready to get back into the court room as the acting defense attorney.
“I just want to be able to make the world a better place in some way,” Ginter said.
Teen Court will be held in the Quincy University John ‘Pete’ Brown Mock Trial Room on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.