Teen Court provides unique experiences for high school students

Rory Wainwright, Associate Editor

    A teenage girl was caught trespassing in a citizen’s home. Some might automatically believe that she is a delinquent, sneaking into a home to steal or destroy, but the information given in a situation such as this might not always automatically mean she is a criminal. The teen was extremely invested in art, she stumbled upon the home on accident when she realized that it was filled with ornate decorations she thought would make an interesting project for photography class. Upon investigation, she was charged and provided with the resolution of Teen Court. 

    Teen Court is a program that many juvenile correctional facilities hold all around the nation. Teens who have a guilty verdict for a first offense have the option of Teen Court. Teens from around the county volunteer to be a part of the jury, if the teen is active and interested, they can be asked to be a defense attorney as well as other positions. Here they will be trained under professionals. The jury finds a creative suitable punishment for the teen to serve. The Summit County Juvenile Court first started cases in March of 2005. This project is overseen by Don Ursetti, who processes all needed information and decisions. Ursetti has been with Teen Court since it started in Summit County. Ursetti explained how this program was introduced to the county. 

    “One of our Magistrates brought the concept to the judge who immediately embraced it. She thought it would be a great way for high school students to be introduced to the system, see how the court works, and also involve them in volunteerism,” Ursetti said. 

    Some confuse the concept of Teen Court with a trial. Teen Court will only take place when the convict has already been proven guilty, and if their parents are aware that they will be brought into the program. The crimes the teen commits are varied. Ursetti listed some of the crimes committed to get to Teen Court. 

    “Primarily the cases involve theft, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, and criminal trespassing,” Ursetti said. 

    Different cases all end with different punishments that are decided upon by the teenage jury. One of Ursetti’s most valued parts about this program is that the jurors concoct creative punishments. The teenage girl who trespassed received the punishment of writing a letter to the police officer who had to receive her, and painting a “no trespassing” sign to hang on the homeowner’s front door. 

Ursetti said that Teen Court operates on the principle of restorative justice.  Once the teen completes their reprimandation, the charge will be dismissed. The Summit County Juvenile Court posted a letter searching for high school volunteers to participate in the program. 

Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio said that [Teen Court] holds youth accountable for making a poor choice and [she] also believes that Teen court can instill a greater understanding of how the juvenile justice system works. 

The court explained what the volunteers do in Teen Court, Summit County Juvenile Court has volunteer opportunities available for county high school students interested in participating in its Teen Court program. The volunteers will be part of an actual Court hearing by serving in the roles of defense attorney, prosecuting attorney, and jurors. Members of the Akron Bar Association and the Prosecutor’s Office mentor the teen attorneys. 

The court provides information about where to find Teen Court. Click on the “General Information” tab and click the “Forms” option on the drop-down list. Mailing and contact information will be provided on the form. Should you want to contact the Court directly, please call Don Ursetti at 330-643-2554 or by e-mail at [email protected]