"I sentence the defendant to 24-hours of community service and a 200-word essay on how to fight peer pressure." These were the words of the 16-year-old judge, who had just sentenced a convicted eight-year-old shoplifter.
This might seem strange, but this is what I hear every other week. I volunteer in Clarkstown Youth Court, where kids are tried in front of their peers. We, the volunteers at Youth Court, take our job seriously. We try to make it as close to an adult court as possible. Since their arraignment in Youth Court is a concern to the defendants, we try to make it a concern to us.
Each position has its own responsibilities. I have had to call up clients and tell them about their situation. This can be tough if the clients do not want to go to youth court or admit to their crime. I have been at an arraignment as an assistant defense attorney and argued the sentence with prosecutors. There is a bailiff, clerk, assistant defense attorney, assistant prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, prosecuting attorney, and a judge. Whatever they encounter in Youth Court must be kept confidential. This is because when the defendants turn sixteen, their record in Youth Court is erased and they get a second chance.
Kids under sixteen have the option of going to Youth Court. There they will be treated as if they are at an adult court. I, or another volunteer, will call them and discuss the case as they see it. I will tell the defendant and their parents about what will happen in Youth Court and the sentences. They range from an ACD, probation, an essay, to any amount of community service up to 48 hours.
Each client has his or her own story and I learn something from all of them. Some people can be difficult to handle, but it ends up that they are happy. This youth court makes a great situation for everyone: the parents, defendants, and volunteers. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.