Teen Court is a program designed to divert less serious cases away from the formal Juvenile Court system. The program is usually initiated after a youth has been arrested or given an initial court date. It typically is available to first-time offenders between the ages of 10 and 17 and gives them a second chance, while at the same time holding the child accountable for their actions. The way it works is that the Juvenile Defendant will explain his or her involvement in the offense to a group of peers who act as a jury. Other youths may act as a clerk of court attorney, or prosecutor. The jury does not determine innocence or guilt, but rather evaluates the offense and returns with a sentence that fits. Guilt must be admitted and the youth must be willing to accept the sentence imposed. The sentence may include a letter of apology, a curfew, community service hours and it will always includes mandatory service as a juror in a future case. The greatest benefit of this program is that when the sanctions are successfully completed, the original charges are dismissed and no criminal record is made. If the sanctions are not completed, the case will go back to the State Attorney’s office and be set for trial. The program is also beneficial to kids because it gives them insight and experience into the legal system, it builds confidence and enhances public speaking skills, and the community service hours can apply to Bright Futures Scholarship requirements.
Civil Citation Program
This program is designed to give first-time juvenile misdemeanor offenders the opportunity to participate in intervention services at the earliest stage of delinquency. If eligible, the juvenile is immediately given sanctions (before going to court) and if successfully completed, they will not be prosecuted. This program varies slightly from county to county but typically the juvenile will not end up with a criminal record if all the sanctions and objectives are completed. Sanctions usually include counseling for substance abuse, community service, and a letter of apology. Cases that involve use of a firearm, gang involvement, animal cruelty, sex crimes, and crimes involving fire setting are usually not eligible. The program is administered by the Juvenile Assessment Center and a Juvenile Probation Officer will determine if the child is eligible. A common complaint I encounter in dealing with these cases is a lack of communication or miscommunication which causes the child to be expelled from the program and put back into the formal prosecution track.
Operation Right Track (Seminole County)
This is a preventative program is administered by the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office and is a two-day initiative designed to offer parents an avenue of intervention for youth on the edge of delinquency. To qualify, youths must be between ages 10 and 17, have no physical limitations, and speak English. The youths will attend and participate in physical exercises and attend a series of classes including “Developing 12 keys of Character” and “Decisions and Consequences”. Parents will attend a class on parenting with a drill instructor. The second day is the Parent Teen challenge which includes exercises designed to improve communication between parents and the youths. Parents will have an orientation and will be filled in on all the aspects of the program. The fee is $70.00 which is non-refundable.