File photo taken before Covid-19 restrictions | EPISD Photo
Learning about the judicial system and court process becomes a little more real for EPISD’s 18 students named to the 2020-21 Municipal Teen Court program.
The real-life justice program is run for teens by teens, providing juveniles with misdemeanor offenses an opportunity to have their case heard by their peers. The teen volunteers perform the roles of attorneys, prosecutor, jurors, court clerk and bailiff for violations such as theft, curfew and traffic citations.
Teen Court is comprised of 49 volunteers, who hear approximately 20 cases per month. During COVID, the students will hear cases virtually until it is safe to resume in-person hearings.
“The philosophy of Teen Court is to use peer pressure as a positive force that holds the teen offenders accountable for their actions,” said spokesman Rick Isaias. “Teen Court will give the underage defendants an opportunity to have their Class C citation dismissed if they comply with Court ordered conditions. The emphasis is on restorative justice, seeking to repair the harm done to the victim and the community. The Teen Court also focuses on prevention and intervention so we try to help the juvenile avoid penetrating into the criminal justice systems by re-offending.”
During orientation, Judge Michelle Morales explains the different roles involved in a court hearing, her expectations of the teens, the process of the program and the roles of the court professionals. Senior lawyers and college interns also guide the teen volunteers.
“Once my law enforcement teacher informed me about what teen court has to offer, and the types of duties I will be expected of completing, I quickly became intrigued,” said Irvin senior Savannah Barrios, a CCTE law enforcement student. “I have a lot of passion for the work that is done through the criminal justice field, so I thought that this program would open plenty of opportunities for me.”
Barrios looks forward to the experience on the court and hearing the cases that arise in the coming year as she prepares for a career in the criminal justice field.
“What I like best about teen court is that I will be exposed to real-life cases, and get an actual feel of what it is like to hold a career in the courthouse,” Barrios said. “I think that this type of peer judicial system is an awesome opportunity to discover different careers in the criminal justice field.”
Her fellow teen court member and CCTE classmate Hannia Casillas, a Chapin High senior, also wants to take advantage of this opportunity to explore real-world experience for a possible career in criminology or forensics after college.
“I wanted to join teen court because I grew up watching a lot of ‘Law and Order’ episodes and I loved seeing the court scene in those shows, so I thought it would be cool to learn the process in real life,” Casillas said. “Working alongside people the same age makes the whole program interesting and easier to manage because we get to interact with each other and understand each other.”
Currently, students are undergoing training via Zoom.
“I like that we are trying our best to treat it just like it would be if everything was normal and trying our best to make the program interesting.”
EPISD’s students participating in the Teen Court program this school year are:
- Juan Venegas, Austin
- Israel Carrillo, Chapin
- Hannia Casillas, Chapin
- Abraham Escobar, Coronado
- Mia Beldner, Franklin
- Martin Rodriguez, Franklin
- Isabel Delgado, Franklin
- Madison Delgado, Franklin
- Grace Kimble, Franklin
- Isabella Morales, Franklin
- Camila Robles, Franklin
- Michael Schwarz, Franklin
- Laynee Stokes, Franklin
- Sara Urueta, Franklin
- Kelly Briggs, Franklin
- Savannah Barrios, Irvin
- Karel Espinoza, Young Women’s STEAM
- Zahra Lajward, Young Womenm’s STEAM