What is Court?
In 1992, the Palm Beach County School District Police Department began extensive research into “Teen Court” programs throughout the United States. The “Teen Court” concept is based on the model of restorative justice through a juvenile peer jury. School Police administrators and personnel observed an increase of adolescents in Palm Beach County entering the criminal justice system as juvenile offenders. As a result, the Palm Beach County Youth Court was created by the School Police in 1995.
Prior to 1995, several law enforcement agencies in Palm Beach County (to include School Police) offered, and continue to offer, the Juvenile First Offender Program to youths accused of a first time only misdemeanor crime. The offending juvenile must admit guilt to the delinquent act. If imposed educational and corrective sanctions are completed, the delinquency case is not sent to the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office and the youth will avoid an official delinquency record for the offense with the State of Florida.
Since 1995, several hundred Juvenile First Offender Program cases have been referred to Youth Court to obtain sanctions. The juvenile has already admitted guilt for the delinquent act, so Youth Court holds a trial (in an actual courtroom) that functions as a sentencing hearing to impose sanctions. The Youth Court jury, prosecutor, defense attorney, and clerk are all juvenile volunteers. An Assistant State Attorney or private attorney presides as judge. The courtroom bailiff is a School Police Officer assigned to manage Youth Court. The juveniles participating as Youth Court personnel also receive community service hours for their efforts.
The offending juvenile testifies about the incident in response to the questions presented by the prosecutor and defense attorney. After closing, arguments are made by both sides, and after recommendations for sanctions are presented, the jury deliberates. When a verdict is reached, the sanctions are announced by the clerk, and the offending juvenile is referred back to the originating Juvenile First Offender Program to complete the sanctions. This collaborative relationship between Juvenile First Offender Programs and Youth Court is a critical component in the success of the “Teen Court” concept.
Since 1999, another responsibility of Youth Court is to administer the Youth Diversion Program for the State Attorney. Misdemeanor and felony delinquency cases accepted by the State Attorney, but deemed acceptable for diversion, are sent to Youth Court. The offending juvenile must admit guilt to the delinquent act. Sanctions are imposed by a Youth Court police officer in a meeting with the juvenile and parent, and if the sanctions are completed successfully, the case is dismissed. However, the youth will have an official delinquency record for the offense with the State of Florida.
Youth Court's Main Goals:
- To expose youthful offenders to a realistic experience in an actual court of law.
- To educate juvenile offenders and juvenile volunteers about the legal process and its consequences.
- To provide juvenile volunteers the opportunity for community service and to gain confidence through public speaking.
- To reduce the number of youthful offenders in Palm Beach County by operating with a guiding philosophy of “compassionate accountability” through the Juvenile First Offender Program, as well as through the Youth Diversion Program.