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The Bayhawk Bearer

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Whatcom County’s Teen Court Program

What’s it all about?
Whatcom Countys Teen Court Program

Teen court is a unique opportunity for high school students in Whatcom County to get a taste of the legal system, as well as a way for young people to have their case reviewed by peers their age. The program started in 1998 and has flourished since its creation.

The training for teen court took place on September 27th and was held in the Bellingham courthouse. There, the program’s details were explained. Usually, court takes place the 2nd Wednesday of every month. As for the goal of teen court, it gives teenagers the opportunity to have an active role in their community and to give young offenders the chance to understand the consequences of their actions and give back to that community.

Those who have their cases heard by a teen court do so through a discretionary diversion. This is a legal contract offered to youth who have their first charge of any misdemeanors or minor offenses that don’t include weapons. A diversion gives them the chance to rehabilitate through means such as counseling, fines, community service work, educational classes, and more. One such method is to have their case reviewed by their peers and let them decide what the best thing to do for their rehabilitation.

As for the court itself, it’s almost entirely made up of teenagers. The role of judge falls upon local attorneys volunteering their services, while teachers from the various schools participating are advisors for the teenagers present. The jury consists of youth who previously had their case heard in teen court as well as volunteers. Students who participate in teen court are to represent the accused and the state by reviewing and sharing the details of the case to the jury. Students who don’t act as advocates instead serve one of the many other roles of a court hearing.

I believe teen court is a great thing in our community and that more programs like this should exist in other places. With all the different schools participating it really does feel like our community is coming together. So far, I’ve had a great experience with everyone involved and I hope to continue working in teen court to learn more about the legal system, as well as to make my community a better place.

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