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The Student News Site of Gretna High School

Gretna Media

The Student News Site of Gretna High School

Gretna Media

Sarpy County Teen Court

Youth Program Educates on Legal System
Mary Jane Kushiner
Teen Court provides Douglas and Sarpy County youth the opportunity to experience a realistic court environment and learn about the legal system. It also allows juveniles, who have committed misdemeanors, to receive a sentence from their peers.

For many high schoolers whose goal is to become a lawyer, or for those who just want to complete their community service hours for the National Honor Society, Teen Court is a great way to reach both of those goals. The Sarpy County program provides students with the opportunity to explore a law career and see, first-hand, how a court operates.

“If you want to do something in the law area, I would [participate in Teen Court],” sophomore Skylar Dietze, who recently participated in it, said. “I mean, it’s just a fun thing to do. You can get some experience from it, depending on what role you play.”

Teen Court also serves as a way for juvenile defendants to get a punishment from other adolescents, as well as plead their case. It also allows them to complete Sarpy County’s Diversion program, which can allow a youth offender to complete his or her sentence in only two to three months.

“The program aims to reinforce self-esteem, provide motivation for self-improvement, promote a healthy attitude toward authority, and educate young people about the law and citizenship,” Leonard Matthias, the Sarpy County Teen Court Coordinator said in an email. “It is based on the premise that young people respond positively to the influences of their peers.”

Most students start out as a jury member, which comes with involvement in sentencing for two different cases. After being questioned by the prosecution and defense attorneys, the jury members deliberate over the punishments that will be assigned to the defendant.

“Teens serve as jurors, bailiffs, jury foreperson, prosecuting and defense attorneys,” Matthias said. “In Teen Court, youth are given a sentence by a jury of other teens, which may include apology/reflection letters, community service hours, drug/alcohol education or decision-making classes, and Teen Court jury duty.”

While the jury is made up of teenagers, each juror takes their role seriously and offers their opinions about a proper sentence. However, the deliberation process is still upbeat and members have healthy debates when a disagreement comes up. The entire process models a regular court case.

“The jury, basically, listens over the case, and then once [the lawyers and defendant] all leave the courtroom, we all have to decide together, in a vote, of what to give them as their punishment,” Dietze said. “They might get drug and alcohol-use classes, Women’s Group, Men’s Group or community service.”

Only a portion of juvenile cases are eligible to be heard in front of Teen Court. Only first-time, misdemeanor offenders are allowed to have their case held in Teen Court, with offenses like shoplifting, disturbing the peace, third-degree assault or possession of marijuana, drugs, alcohol or weapons.

Teen Court is held at the Sarpy County Courthouse in Papillion every other Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. Anyone interested in Teen Court can be added to its mailing list by emailing [email protected] to get reminders for each session a week prior.

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About the Contributor
Mary Jane Kushiner, Reporter
Mary Jane Kushiner is a sophomore at GHS and this is her first year with Gretna Media. She serves as a reporter. She is interested in journalism because she loves writing and reporting. Her favorite thing to write are feature stories. Besides being in journalism she likes to read and spend time outdoors. 

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