Youth Peer Court Philosophy
How Does Youth Peer Court Work?
Beaverton Youth Peer Court is a program whereby youths who have committed first time misdemeanors or violations are judged through a court system of their peers. The attorneys, clerks, bailiffs, and jurors are volunteers from 12- to 17-years of age. The defendants have admitted guilt and are standing trial to be sentenced by their peers. The success of Youth Peer Court depends on the combined effort of the Beaverton Police Department, adult volunteers who work in the legal field, and teenage volunteers interested in learning more about the legal system through hands-on experience. The community benefits from the program's success since fewer second-time offenders means a lower crime rate.
The process begins either with a recommendation by the Prosecuting Attorney from the Juvenile Department or, in most cases, when a police officer comes in contact with a youth believed to have committed a misdemeanor (e.g., non-victim vandalism, theft) or a violation (e.g., possession of alcohol or tobacco, and out past curfew). Instead of arresting the juvenile, a citation is issued and signed by the juvenile stating that s/he agrees to meet with his or her parents and the officer of Youth Peer Court Intake. At that meeting, the officer discusses the options for the youth, which are either:
- Enter the Juvenile Court System and risk a possible criminal record; or
- Enter the Youth Peer Court.
By choosing the latter option, the juvenile is admitting guilt and is agreeing to accept the court's decision as final and binding. Furthermore, choosing Youth Peer Court means that certain Constitutional Rights (e.g., hearsay and the right to confront witnesses) will be forfeited. If the juvenile chooses Youth Peer Court, s/he is then given a court date and location for the defendant to appear with his/her parent for trial.
With the wheels in motion, the cases are distributed to the student attorneys. The student attorneys research their cases for information that might include past criminal records, legal concepts, or special circumstances surrounding the defendant. Prior to trial, attorneys are expected to read the pertinent Oregon Revised Statutes, interview the defendant and potential witnesses, and prepare opening statements, questions, and closing arguments. Attorneys are encouraged to consult Youth Peer Court advisors, the school resource officer, or professional attorneys about their questions. At all times, the volunteers must adhere to the confidentiality requirements as to the identity of the defendant and the facts of his/her case.
The jury consists of 6 to 12 youths. A jury coordinator assigns volunteers to specific cases on specific dates. A portion of the jury should consist of past defendants who are serving their required duty to the Youth Peer Court. Every defendant who chooses Youth Peer Court is required to serve as a peer court juror at least once regardless of their sentence at trial.
Beaverton Youth Peer Court encompasses most of the facets of any trial court. At trial, both attorneys present opening statements and then the prosecution presents its case. At this time, the defense may make a Motion to Dismiss. If the motion is denied, then the defense makes its case. After closing arguments, the presiding judge instructs the jury on rules of the law and the jurors' responsibilities toward the case. After the jury withdraws, the jury chooses a foreman, deliberates on the case, and decides on a unanimous verdict. Sentences may include writing an essay, working a certain number of community hours, and/or paying restitution. Regardless of the sentence, each defendant is required to serve as a Youth Peer Court juror and participate in a self-esteem workshop. When court reconvenes for that case, the jury foreman announces the sentence and an explanation for their decision. After trial, the Youth Peer Court advisors meet with each defendant to set up appointments for the completion of the sentence (e.g., community service). When court adjourns for the day, the attorneys and the judge stay for an informal troubleshooting session, where the attorneys ask questions, learn what mistakes were made, and how to avoid those mistakes the next time they serve as attorneys for Youth Peer Court. Any problems are discussed at the next meeting between the volunteer coordinator and the Youth Peer Court advisors.