Students lend expertise at Teen Court
Courtroom etiquette, proper direct examination and consequences fitting the offense are all on the agenda when students at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law mentor teens in the Maricopa County Teen Court program.
Teen Court is a diversionary program in which teens serve as prosecutors, defense attorneys, bailiffs and members of the jury to determine the proper consequence for a peer who has admitted responsibility for a violation of the law.
By listening to the offender and any witnesses that appear, the teens determine any mitigating circumstances and assign consequences that can include community service, restitution, letters of apology, peer counseling, tutoring, research papers, educational classes, skill-building classes and jury duty.
The University Lakes arm of the program began meeting at the College of Law in November, using the college’s courtroom classroom, which has a judge’s bench, jury box and tables for lawyers and defendants.
Law students volunteer through the college’s pro bono program, which provides free law-related services to promote the public good or to those who cannot afford help. Last year, the college’s law students donated 73,000 hours to the elderly, the disabled, the homeless and other programs.
Shana Einhorn, a third-year law student who plans to work in family law, recently sat across the table from Abby Richardson, 17, and Ashley Elliott, 18, both of Desert Vista High School, who served as prosecuting attorneys in an assault case. Elliott eventually hopes to take pre-law classes at ASU, while Richardson wants to be a cosmetic surgeon.
Einhorn helped the students read the police account of the incident, a fight over a boy in which one girl slapped another and dragged her by the hair across the cement.
“You should point out the difference in size,” Einhorn told them.
Then she explained the idea of hearsay, that someone told the offender that the girl was saying things about her.
She also coached them on their performance in front of the judge.
“Most people talk too fast,” Einhorn told them. “Speak much slower than you think you should. Even if the person on the stand is rude to you, always be polite. And stand up when you speak to the judge.”
Lee Roberts, a juvenile probation officer and Teen Court coordinator, sat on the bench.
The “defense attorneys,” two teenage boys, walked the offender through her background, the teasing she suffered in school, and her anger at hearing the other girl was spreading rumors about her.
Elliott and Richardson asked her about the size difference, whether there had been other fights, and whether she had apologized.
The jury of teens decided the offender should attend an anger-management workshop, and write an essay on anger.
Suzanne Sanchez, a 1991 graduate of the College of Law who is an attorney and supervisor in the Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office, says the Teen Court program has a great success rate.
“Ninety-eight percent of the teens who come through the program don’t have a second offense,” she says.
Sanchez says the program gives first-time offenders a taste of the court system without establishing a juvenile record.
“It’s literally a jury of their peers – other teenagers – and the consequences stop short of jail or probation,” Sanchez says. “It’s a great experience for high school students interested in law or public speaking.”
Judy Nichols, email@example.com
Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law