published: Friday, May 11, 2012
Teen court offers lesson in civility
GOOD EXPERIENCE: Becoming better acquainted with a centuries-old tradition that establishes into society the principles of action and consequences is vital to productive adulthood.
It's easy to overlook the legal justice system. It's even easier to get a wrong view of how American law and order functions -- that is, if your only contact with it is from television cop shows. A working knowledge of how the system of cops and courts operates is vital and useful for everyone who wants to serve as contributing citizens of the United States.
In Lake and Sumter counties, school and court officials have a program for teens and young offenders that submerses them into the legal process. It's called Teen Court.
Teens serve as prosecutors, court clerks, bailiffs, jurors and other court officials. A local attorney usually serves as the presiding judge.
The defendants in the criminal cases are real, although offenses are often relatively minor. The program is designed to give first-time offenders between the ages of 10 and 17 a second chance, while holding them accountable for their actions. The defendant must stand before a jury of their peers, plead guilty and accept the sanctions the court imposes.
The "attorneys" argue over acceptable penalties and the "jurors" deliberate. The justice is real and binding. All involved in the program are volunteers.
"It's a chance to learn about the law while serving as role models," said a local attorney.
Teen Court leaders often exude a sense of zeal for a program that brings the reality of the legal system as close to home as many may ever experience. Participating in Teen Court gives teens a sense of civic responsibility. They are deciding the fate of one of their peers.
The introduction to the judicial system inspires many teens to begin developing a career in law.
Becoming better acquainted with a centuries-old tradition that establishes into society the principles of action and consequences is vital to productive and civil adulthood.
Investing in Teen Court serves our two counties well -- especially in the long term.
After all, civility can rarely be taught in the classroom. It is something that must be experienced.