A Brunswick County program is giving a whole new meaning to the term a jury of your peers. It is called Teen Court and it is a chance for young first offenders to wipe the slate clean. But make no mistake, this is not kid stuff.
At first glance it looks like a normal courtroom, but if you look closely, the attorneys, jury, bailiff, and defendant are kids. They are all part of Brunswick County’s Teen Court.
Teen prosecutor, Silas Acosta said, “My favorite show is Law and Order, so I wanted to see if Law and Order was the real thing or not. I found out that drama is drama.”
Juvenile offenders can be recommended to the program to receive a constructive sentence, typically involving community service. It also gives kids interested in the criminal justice system a way to get hands on experience under the supervision of adult advisors.
“I get to prepare an opening statement, a closing statement and I get to investigate. I get to interview, it’s very, very fun. I like it a lot,” Acosta said.
“I can speak publicly for the first time, I don’t run away and cower. It’s really taught me how to deal with people,” added teen defense attorney, Tabitha Causby.
Kids are forced to take responsibility for their actions, which include a variety of charges, including drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, even their parents take the stand.
Defendant Clint Pennell said, “I’ve learned that you need to abide by the laws and do them whenever you’re supposed to, not whenever you just want to.”
The only adult in the process is the judge, who is actually Assistant District Attorney Gina Essey. “Just watching them be quick on their feet, like real attorneys are in court, it’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”
The program has a solid success rate. Advisors said only five to ten percent of the teens offend again. There is no doubt there are some future attorneys in this room, and the experience they are getting now is priceless.
“If you get in trouble, you’ll see me,” said teen prosecutor, Perry Smith, Jr.
Brunswick County has had Teen Court for ten years. They meet once a month and typically see a few cases each session.