Teen Court

Philosophy

Teen Court Volunteers
Teen Court Volunteers

The McAllen Teen Court has been established to add a new dimension of diversion, accountability, and responsibility to the Juvenile Justice System. The program is specifically designed to address the needs of the first time misdemeanor offender and his/her family.

Through the creation of a Teen (Peer) Jury Court System, the juvenile offender, his/her parents, and appropriate community agencies are brought together to determine fair, logical, and natural consequences for the juvenile’s misbehavior.

The purpose and intent of the Teen Court program is to involve young people in taking responsibility for their actions, to provide restitution to victims and the community and to give the community an active role in dealing with juvenile crime. The Court will hold hearings to determine the circumstances of the offense and develop contracts with such elements as restitution and apology to victims, community service work, and educational programs for the juvenile offender.

It is hoped that the McAllen Teen Court will interrupt developing patterns of criminal behavior by promoting feelings of self-esteem, motivation for self-improvement and development of a healthy attitude toward authority. For the offender as well as the non-offender who serves on the jury, Teen Court challenges youth to perform at their highest level of ability and places a high priority on educating people to the responsibilities of an individual, family member and citizen.

2006-2007 Senior Teen Court Volunteers
2006 - 2007 Senior Teen Court Volunteers

How Teen Court Works

Cases coming before the Teen Court include traffic violations and Class C offenses such as: shoplifting under $50.00, assault, fighting and other city ordinance violations like curfew violation, loitering, and graffiti.

The defendant, who must be enrolled full-time in secondary school and must have parent or guardian present, is sworn to tell the truth, and sits in the witness box. The Judge and a volunteer attorney introduce the defendant to the six teenage jurors and inform the jury of the charge against the defendant. After hearing the evidence presented by the teenage prosecutor and the defense attorney, the jury retires to the judge’s chambers where they decide what sentence the defendant must complete. Their decision is written down and handed to the judge who reconvenes the court, calls the defendant before the bench, and reads the sentence.

Sentences:

Sentences need not to be unique and should fit the offense. Some possible sentences might include working as a volunteer at different community service organizations. Attending a defensive driving school, if they qualify, or working with the police department. The defendant may reject the sentence assessed by the teen jury and elect to go before the municipal court. The defendant may elect to complete the sentence, change his mind, and then go before the appropriate Court. The Judge may alter the sentence if he/she feels undue humiliation is involved or that the sentence is too severe.

If the sentence is not completed by the defendant within the specified time frame or if the defendant does not serve on the teen jury when called, the defendant does not get his record cleared, and must go back before the appropriate court.

2006 Teen Court Scholarship Recipients
2006 Teen Court Volunteer Scholarship Recipients
Left to Right: John David Franz, Diana Ramos
(Teen Court Coordinator), Joshua Guzman

How One Gets to Teen Court

A juvenile may reach the McAllen Teen Court in one of two ways: Upon receiving a traffic summons or a juvenile may be referred to Teen Court by the Juvenile Probation Office, McAllen Police Department, McAllen Municipal Court, or the Justice of the Peace.

Upon a traffic summons, a juvenile must appear in person with parent or guardian at the Municipal court building before the Judge. If the youth pleads guilty to the violation, the Teen Court option is explained to the individual and parent or guardian. Persons not pleading “not guilty” are automatically slated for Municipal Court Trial (there is no separate traffic court).

If the juvenile is referred for a class C offense, the juvenile must appear in person with the parent or guardian

Upon receipt of a referral, the Teen Court Coordinator will meet the youth and parents (who must attend) and explain the program and the youth’s rights. If the coordinator believes the referral is inappropriate because of innocence, refusal by the youth to cooperate in the program or other mitigating circumstances, the Coordinator will strongly recommend return to the Municipal Court for a hearing rather than diversion to Teen Court.

Who Serves on the Teen Court

McAllen Teen Court obtains volunteers from the local high schools by describing the program to students and soliciting volunteers. Teenagers may hear about Teen Court from friends and agree to volunteer. All defendants, as part of their sentences, must serve on the teen jury at least once.

Citizens can also contact Brenda Hernandez, Teen Court Coordinator, by phone at (956) 681-2904, by email at bhernandez@mcallenpd.net or by mail @ P.O. Box 220, McAllen, TX 78505-0220.

Teen Court Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Who qualifies for Teen Court?
Defendant needs to be a first time offender who is enrolled in Jr. High or High school.
2. How long is the sentence?
The sentence is from 4 to 30 community service hours and from 1 to 4 jury duties. They have one month to complete the sentence. If sentence is completed, the defendant will not have a record on the citation and will not have to pay the citation.
3. When and where does Teen Court meet?
On Mondays from 5:00pm to 7:30pm. At the McAllen Police Department – Municipal Court
4. Who can volunteer?
Any High School or Jr High student. If you volunteer more than two years they might be eligible to receive a $1000 scholarship from Teen Court.
5. Who sponsors Teen Court?
McAllen Police Department and Junior League of McAllen.
6. When did Teen Court start?
In January of 1988.
7. What kinds of offenses are tried at Teen Court?
Only Class C misdemeanors and traffic offenses.