Judge Alison Kolomitz (bottom) and a jury of teenagers listen as prosecutors Marc Koll (standing) and Amy Lee question a teen court defendant. Katrina Baca (left) and Savannah Valdez served as the defendant’s lawyers.
When a juvenile is arrested for their first misdemeanor charge or a traffic offense and admit they are guilty of the charge, they then have a choice of facing their peers in Teen Court or taking the traditional juvenile court system.
“It is hoped that those juveniles appearing before the Teen Court will learn from the process and not continue criminal behavior thus avoiding being referred to the Juvenile Court,” Janice Lucero, Juvenile Diversion Program Manager for Navajo County, said.
High school students take on the roles of the prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys and jury members.
The two teams of lawyers present their cases and the group of jurors deliberates the innocence of the defendant and hand down consequences accordingly.
Consequences are not to punish the defendant, but are aimed at preventing them from repeating the offense by illustrating the negative effects the action can have on their goals.
Lucero explained that the consequences are reflective “of the severity of the offense and often include community service, attendance at courses or meetings, such as substance abuse support groups or defensive driving, counseling.” Each defendant is required to return to the court and serve as a juror.
“If the youth fails to complete the consequences handed down by the jury, the case is referred back to the Juvenile Probation Officer for processing through the regular Juvenile Justice System,” she added. If the consequences are completed, then the offense could be taken off the defendant’s record.
Darryl Pedilla is the Teen Court Coordinator for Winslow High and works with juvenile probation officers, Nate Velez and Beverly Wilson, who refer their clients to the Teen Court system.
Students who participate in the court proceeding get the opportunity to learn something about the proceedings on both sides of a courtroom.
“[Teen Court] is designed to provide a “hands on” experience on how the legal system works,” Lucero said.
Teen Court is held in Winslow twice a month with Judge Alison Kolomitz, Navajo County Justice Court Precinct #2, hearing the cases. The program is funded by the Arizona Supreme Court under the Juvenile Crime Reduction Fund.