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Youth court gives teens a chance to get involved

Staff writer

Middle and high school volunteers participated in a mock trial Monday at Marion County Courthouse, practicing for real cases that the volunteers will address in youth court.

In youth court, volunteers fill the roles of court clerk, jury, prosecutor, and defense attorney, coordinator and Eighth Judicial District Court Services Officer Amber Knapp said. A local attorney fills the role of judge. Marion County youth court began in 2002.

Youth court allows first-time juvenile offenders to go through the court system quickly, relieving the burden on district court. One of the benefits to offenders is the opportunity to have the charges removed from their record. In this way, youth court acts as a diversion program.

A juvenile offender must admit guilt to be eligible for youth court. Youth court only determines punishment. Punishments can include repairing damage, community service, and curfews, for example.

Volunteer Danae Bina, of Hillsboro Middle School, said she thinks it is important to get the sentence “just right.” A punishment that is too light won’t teach an offender a lesson, but a punishment that is too strict would be unfair.

Youth court usually hears one or two cases per month, Knapp said. If the program is full, qualifying offenders can participate in another diversion program.

There are several benefits for volunteers, including learning about the court system and scholarship opportunities. It also is good to have on a resume for students interested in behavioral science or criminal justice, Knapp said.

“It just sounded like lots of fun,” Centre High School freshman Tom Oborny said.

Marion Middle School eighth-grader Dirk Young said the practice wasn’t like he expected.

“I thought it would be a lot more difficult,” he said. He thinks real cases might meet his expectation of difficulty.

Last modified Oct. 22, 2009

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