Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Open forum: Teen Court is a valuable program

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I am writing in response to Michael Mendelson’s letter on July 25, (‘‘Teen Court: A miscarriage of justice”). Two of my three sons have served as volunteers for the program and I have been an adult volunteer since 2003.

My oldest son has functioned in the capacities of both adult jury monitor and adult judge. He recently graduated from law school and sat for the Virginia Bar Exam in June. My youngest son has volunteered as both a juror while in high school and a jury monitor during college.

It is clear that Mr. Mendelson is unfamiliar with the program and has misinterpreted the article he read. In fact, no juvenile is forced to have their case heard in Teen Court; it is entirely voluntary. Teen Court is an option available only to first-time non-violent offenders that have admitted guilt.

After meeting with the Police Intake Unit, juveniles meeting the aforementioned criteria are given the option of participating in this diversionary program that allows them to take responsibility and be given a second chance. Teen Court is designed to mete out a punishment — not decide guilt or innocence. Any juvenile wishing to contest their guilt for a charged offense can still have their case heard in Juvenile Court with the benefit of counsel. Many respondents and parents that I have spoken with have praised the program for providing their children the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions without receiving a juvenile record. As well, quite a few of the respondents who have had their cases heard before the Teen Court return to volunteer with the program not because they have to, rather they want to.

I am confident that neither our state’s attorney, John McCarthy, nor any of our judges are doing anything to circumvent an accused youngster’s right to have an attorney present before any kind of confession. In fact, I applaud Mr. McCarthy for his support of this valuable program for youth.

Maybe Mr. Mendelson should attend Teen Court one evening and witness firsthand how valuable a program it truly is.

Carla H. Keats, Montgomery Village