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Click here to see Teen Court photos from 2013
How Did Teen Court Begin?
Teen Court was first conceived and established in 1983 by the Junior League of Odessa, Texas, and the city of Odessa. Its purposes were to provide a more positive and effective alternative to an increasingly inadequate and ineffective juvenile justice system and to help combat the growing epidemic of juvenile crime and violence within the community. Teen Court spread to Florida in 1991 when Manatee County first implemented the program. Highlands County's very own Teen Court was started in 1996 by the Honorable L.E. "Luke" Brooker, Clerk of Court, with the cooperation and encouragement of the Tenth Judicial Circuit State Attorney's office, local bar association, local law enforcement, Department of Juvenile Justice, Highlands County School Board, and resident Chief Judge of Tenth Circuit, the Honorable J. David Langford.
Why a Teen Court?
Teen Court was established to add a new concept of diversion and accountability to the juvenile justice system. It is a sentencing hearing directed toward juvenile misdemeanor and select felony offenders who have admitted guilt to a charge. To qualify for participation in Teen Court, certain criteria must be met. Teenage volunteers serve as clerk, bailiff, jurors and attorneys to present the case to the court. The presiding judge is the only adult participating in the Teen Court hearing.
The Purpose of Teen Court
The purpose of Teen Court, aside from sentencing, is to educate and motivate both defendants and student participants while promoting better communication between schools, attorneys, defendants, the court, law enforcement and the public.
The Objectives of Teen Court
The objectives of Teen Court are to provide the justice system with an alternative to the traditional handling of a juvenile delinquency charge. Teen Court serves as a diversionary program to interrupt the beginning criminal behavior in the juvenile and to assist the offender in recognizing that they are responsible for their behavior. Teen Court also helps in relieving the over-burdened court docket in juvenile court.
For the delinquent teenager, the advantages of participating in Teen Court are many. Some of these include; voluntary participation, a diversion from appearing in the Juvenile Circuit Court, exposure to positive peer pressure and behavior, and a speedy resolution to their case. The delinquent teenager is educated in the judicial justice process: through education comes understanding, and with understanding comes respect. The teen defendant may return as a volunteer in Teen Court after successfully completing their sentence.
For the Teen Court volunteer, the program offers hands-on educational experience with the judicial process and involvement with community service. The rules governing courtroom conduct require respect for our laws and each other.
Teen Court Criteria
It was hereby approved and accepted on the 9th day of January 2009 that the following charges may be directly diverted to the Highlands County Teen Court Diversionary Program upon approval by the State Attorney:
Selected first and second offense misdemeanor charges - Selected first offense felony charges - to wit:
|Battery ||Disorderly Conduct |
|Domestic Battery (No Parent or Guardian) ||Failure to Pay Smoking Citation |
|Disorderly Intoxication ||Criminal Mischief |
|Loitering and Prowling ||Possession of Alcohol |
|Possession of a Controlled Substance ||Possession of Drug Paraphernalia |
|Possession of Marijuana ||Petit Theft |
|Resisting Merchant ||Trespass |
|Trespass on School Grounds After Warning ||Trespass Construction Site |
|Trespass Structure/Conveyance After Warning ||Trespass Occupied Structure |
|Felony Criminal Mischief ||Harassing Communications |
|Resisting Arrest without Violence/Giving False Name ||Harassing Phone Calls |
|Obscene Phone Calls ||Disturbing School Function |
|Failure to Pay Game & Fish Citation Fines ||Sale of Alcohol to a Minor |
|Theft of a Credit Card ||Possession of a Stolen Credit Card |
|Fraudulent Use of a Credit Card ||Forgery (Victim being Parent) |
|Uttering a Forged Instrument (under $150.00) ||Possession of Counterfeit ID |
|Possession of a BB Gun by a Minor ||Possession of a Pellet Gun by a Minor |
|No Valid Driver License ||Attempted Flee and Elude Police Officer |
|Affray ||Grand Theft (No Violence)/Grand Theft Auto (No Violence) |
|Interfere with School Administration || |
Teen Court defendants must be at least 11 years old but no more than 17 years old. Cases with restitution owing will be accepted upon approval of the victim and the State Attorney. The State Attorney will be responsible for preparing the "Order of Restitution" following the imposition of the Teen Court sanctions. Victims of crimes must be in agreement with Teen Court diversion or the case will not be eligible for Teen Court. Law enforcement officers and the Department of Juvenile Justice may use their own discretion for referring to Teen Court youthful offenders who may not meet the criteria listed above. The Highlands County Teen Court will accept other referrals from school officials, county judges, and circuit judges.
Rules Governing Courtroom Conduct
It is a privilege to serve in and use our courthouse and courtrooms. Please show your respect by following the court rules.
- No gum, hats, sunglasses, shorts, beepers, or cell phones.
- Do not put your feet on the furniture. Sit up straight and listen.
- Once court begins there is to be no talking and you are to remain in your seats. Please do not leave or enter the courtroom until a recess has been called.
- Once a recess has been called you may leave the courtroom, but do not leave the courtroom security area.
- Do not discuss the cases after deliberation with anyone!
- Respect Oath of Confidentiality and abide by it.
- Be on time for your case.
Respect for the confidentiality of Teen Court proceedings and participants is demanded of all volunteers and cannot be overstated. The business of appearing in any court is a personal matter. All aspects of a Teen Court session should be considered confidential. The Oath of Confidentiality is required to be taken at the beginning of each Teen Court session by all in attendance:
I solemnly swear that I will not divulge, either by words or signs, any information which comes to my knowledge in the course of a Teen Court session, and that I will keep secret all said proceedings which may be held in my presence.
Failure to respect this Oath can result in dismissal from participation in the program.
For more Teen Court information contact: Teen Court Coordinator (863) 402-6986
Highlands County Teen Court Membership Application
Highlands County Teen Court Release of Information Form