Teen Court

Youth Outreach

Charles County Teen Court is a juvenile justice diversion program in which first-time offenders between the ages of 12 and 17 are judged by a jury of their peers and offered the opportunity to accept accountability for their minor crimes without having to incur a permanent record.

Table of Contents

Overview

The program is designed to reduce the number of youth offenders and educate them in a realistic court environment. Since Teen Court's establishment in March 2001, hundreds of teens have taken the opportunity to accept responsibility for their actions and change their behavior.

Teen Court also gives teens who are interested in the judicial system the opportunity to help their peers while gaining first-hand knowledge of the court system. The program offers adult volunteer opportunities as well.

Winter-Spring 2015

Summer/Fall 2014

Contact Teen Court Coordinator Sarah Vaughan with questions by calling 301-609-3915 or e-mailing VaughanS@ccso.us.

About Teen Court

Teen Court cases are real cases in which an arrest has been made or a traffic citation has been issued. Teens are required to plead guilty and to understand their participation in the program is voluntary.

Charles County Teen Court is based on the philosophy that when a peer jury decides the punishment, youth offenders will avoid violating the law in the future. It offers first-time misdemeanor offenders:

  • The opportunity to restore relationships within their communities through informal methods of adjudication
  • The resources to improve their future decision making
  • Lessons about responsibility.

Teen Court participants avoid the stigma of formal juvenile records, focusing instead on accountability and development. They accept responsibility for their actions by fulfilling sanctions determined by a jury of their peers.

Teen Court handles misdemeanor, non-violent offenses including, but not limited to:

  • Theft
  • Assault
  • Traffic Violations
  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Common Law Affray
  • Criminal Mischief

Cases are presented in one of two formats: Petit Court and Grand Jury. For a detailed explanation of these formats, click here.

Once the case is heard and the jury determines a suitable sanction, the Teen Court coordinator will review the jury's decision with the respondent and his or her parents. Respondents sign a contract agreeing to complete the imposed sanctions within the allotted timeframe. If the sanctions are completed within the time limit, the judge is notified and no further action is required.

Teen Court sanctions are vary according to the offense and typically involve future participation on a Teen Court jury. A typical sanction might also include:

  • Apology letter to victim(s)
  • Community Service
  • Research Paper
  • Essay or DVD
  • Prevention or Education Projects
  • In-school informal probation
  • Emergency Medical Services Ride-Along

Information For Parents And Respondents

Trial Night
Please arrive at the Charles County Circuit Courthouse at 5:45 p.m. The address is: 200 Charles Street, La Plata MD 20646.

Dress Code
Respondents should wear business attire. Acceptable attire includes slacks, collared shirts and sweaters for gentlemen and slacks, skirts, dresses and blouses for ladies. Absolutely no flip-flops, ripped clothes or t-shirts are permitted.

Check-In
When you arrive to the Courthouse, please notify Court Security you are appearing for a Teen Court trial. Court Security will need to know the respondent's name.

Before the Trial
Teen Court is conducted in three court rooms. Three or four cases are presented in each room and cases can last up to 45 minutes. Please be patient while waiting for your case to be called. Do not leave the courthouse as your case may be moved to another court room.

Trial
When a case is called, the respondent will sit at the table and parents will sit in the first row of benches. The judge will speak with the respondent for a few minutes and the respondent will then take the stand. The trial will begin.

Reminder to Parents
During trial, parents are not allowed to speak for their child. When the trial concludes, parents who have concerns may ask the bailiff to summon the Teen Court Coordinator, who will answer any questions or address other concerns.

After Deliberation
After the jury has decided upon appropriate sanctions, the respondent will return to the court room. The judge will read the jury's decision and ask the respondent if he or she has any questions. The respondent should answer, "No, Your Honor." The judge will then speak briefly with the respondent.

Exit Interview
After each trial, respondents will speak with an exit interviewer. He or she will explain to you: your sanctions, your deadlines and completing and submitting paperwork.

Reminders

  • This is a voluntary program, if at any time you or your parents want to leave the program, contact the Teen Court Coordinator, Sarah Vaughan. Ms. Vaughan is in the office Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and her direct phone number is 301-609-3916.
  • School Resource Officers are also available to answer Teen Court questions during the school day.

Suspension to the Superintendent

If you have been referred to Teen Court as the result of a suspension to the Superintendent, other rules and procedures apply. Please review the following document prior to arriving at the Courthouse:

Teen Court: Suspension to Superintendent

Volunteer Information

Youth volunteers must:

  • Be between 12 and 17 years old
  • Be in good academic standing
  • Abide by the rules of the program
  • Sign and respect the Oath of Confidentiality
  • Demonstrate maturity and sensitivity

To volunteer for Teen Court, download the youth application and bring it to the next Teen Court session.

If you are currently or were previously a youth volunteer, please download and complete the Youth Volunteer Renewal Application.

Adult volunteers must:

  • Be over the age of 18
  • Successfully pass a CCSO background investigation
  • Abide by the rules of the program
  • Sign and respect the Oath of Confidentiality
  • Demonstrate maturity and sensitivity
  • Demonstrate an ability to work with a range of teenagers

To volunteer for Teen Court, download the adult application and bring it to the next Teen Court session.

Teen Court Volunteer Benefits

  • Invitations to Field Trips: Previous field trip locations include the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, D.C.; the National Aquarium in Baltimore; and Mount Vernon, Virginia. Field trips are offered throughout the year.
  • Conferences: Each spring, 10 Teen Court volunteers are selected to attend the Maryland Law Day Conference in Baltimore. During the one-day conference, teens from throughout Maryland meet and learn about laws.
  • Lectures: Each month, Teen Court invites guest speakers to give presentations to volunteers and their parents. The speakers discuss a variety of topics including law enforcement careers and personal well-being, including how to handle stress.
  • Community Service: For each session as a jury member, lawyer or bailiff, teens will receive four hours of community service which can be used for school purposes.

Teen Court Roles

Judge

  • Adult volunteer, usually from the legal profession
  • Serves as senior authority in the courtroom
  • Reviews jury sanctions and presents it to respondent
  • Discusses the offense and its potential impact with the respondent and the respondent's parents
  • Addresses issues that arise during court proceedings, such as questions about the jury or the applicable law

Prosecuting Attorney

  • Youth volunteer
  • Becomes familiar with aggravating and mitigating circumstances related to the case
  • Seeks justice by arguing for an sentence that is appropriate for the severity of the offense and that will be constructive and rehabilitative.
  • Prepare cases
  • Present opening statements
  • Question the respondent
  • Make closing arguments

Defense Attorney

  • Youth volunteer
  • Serve as respondent's advocate
  • Prepare cases
  • Present opening statements
  • Protest objectionable questioning by the prosecutor
  • Make concerted effort to convince the jury to reduce the penalties
  • Serve their client zealously without misrepresenting the case

Bailiff

  • Usually a cadet but duties may be performed by adult volunteers
  • Maintains safety and security of Teen Court participants
  • Guard jurors
  • Escort defendants and families to the courtroom
  • Announce the judge to the court
  • Assist the judge during the hearing

Jury Members

  • Work with fellow jury members to reach a verdict based upon evidence as presented in court
  • Agree to impose a sentence designed to hold the respondents responsible for their actions
  • Must perform their duties honestly without fear or favor

Jurors are randomly selected from the Teen Court volunteer pool. A jury may be comprised in part by previous offenders sanctioned to serve jury duty.

Tobacco Diversion Unit

In an attempt to address youth tobacco use, the Charles County Sheriff's Office and the Charles County Health Department offer a diversion program for juveniles between the ages of 12 and 17 who receive citations for tobacco possession. The program utilizes the Teen Court concept.

A Youth Tobacco Hearing Panel addresses youth charged with a civil violation of possession of tobacco products under the age of 18. Juveniles charged with this violation typically participate in a formal intake hearing at the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. However, the diversion program sends qualifying juveniles before a panel of their peers instead. The panel, which is moderated by an adult community leader, interviews the juvenile about tobacco use and refers the juvenile to a smoking/tobacco education program conducted by the Charles County Health Department. Graduated punitive sanctions, which are to be completed within a specified time, may also be imposed. Once the juvenile has completed the program and any imposed sanctions successfully, the case will be closed and will not be forwarded to the Department of Juvenile Services.

Participation in the program is voluntary and parental consent is mandatory. Otherwise, the case will be forwarded to the Department of Juvenile Services.

Location and Courthouse Rules

Regular sessions of Charles County Teen Court are conducted at the Charles County Courthouse located at:

200 Charles Street
La Plata, MD 20646

Parking is available behind the Courthouse and beside it. Please do not park in the adjacent church's parking lot. Use the entrance accessible from the parking lot behind the building.

All jurors and respondents should arrive at the Courthouse by 5:15 p.m. All Courthouse visitors are subject to a security checkpoint. Please follow the directions of the court security officer. The following items are strictly prohibited:

  • Radios
  • Recording devices
  • Cameras
  • Weapons
  • Any other electronic items

Generally, cell phones are also prohibited in the Courthouse however Teen Court guests are permitted to carry one to coordinate transportation following the session. Cell phones must be turned off while inside the Courthouse. Cell phones are not permitted during normal Courthouse hours.

Frequently Asked Questions

Teen Court is a juvenile justice diversion program offering first-time offenders between the ages of 12 and 17 the opportunity to accept accountability for minor crimes without having to incur a permanent record. Juvenile respondents are judged by a jury of their peers as part of this voluntary program, which is designed to reduce the number of youth offenders and educate them in a realistic court environment.

Since the program was established in March 2001, hundreds of teens have been given the opportunity to accept responsibility for their actions and change their behavior.

The program also gives teens who are interested in the judicial system the opportunity to help their peers while gaining first-hand knowledge of the court system. Adult volunteers serve as judges.

Teen Court is a program for youth between the ages of 12 and 17 who resident in Charles County, Maryland, and are currently enrolled in school. Those who are eligible may be referred to the program by a presiding judge for traffic violations or, in instances of misdemeanors, selected by the Teen Court coordinator or a Sheriff’s Office Juvenile Intervention Officer assigned to the child’s school. The child must enter a guilty plea to be accepted into the program and parental consent and participation is mandatory.

There is no charge to participate in Teen Court. However, any applicable restitution must be resolved.

The following dress code is enforced and applies to all respondents, jurors and volunteers.

All attire must be neat and clean. Dress pants and a collard shirt or blouse are considered examples of appropriate attire. Girls may wear dresses or long skirts.

The following items are prohibited:

  • Jeans
  • Caps or hats (in the Courtroom)
  • Short shorts or short skirts
  • Tank tops or exposed midriffs
  • Any clothing bearing inappropriate logos
  • Sagging pants or exposed underwear
  • Torn or dirty clothing
  • Cell phones, smart phones, tablet computers, MP3 players, etc.

Teen Court reserves the right to refuse involvement to anyone who does not abide by the dress code.

The respondent is responsible for contacting the agency to schedule the community service hours. Possible assignments include:

  • County Parks and Recreation
  • Libraries
  • Humane Society of Charles County
  • Non-profit agencies (such as the American Red Cross)
  • Senior citizen centers or retirement homes
  • Churches
  • Civic groups
  • Government buildings/offices

Sanctions include a variety of consequences based upon the severity of an offense and can include: community service hours, Teen Court jury service, letters of apology, research papers, ambulance ride-alongs and other special projects. The Teen Court jury determines the appropriate sanctions based upon the evidence presented and the sanction guidelines provided by Teen Court.

Those referred to the program by a judge or officer will receive a form and should contact the Teen Court coordinator to schedule an appointment for their preliminary interview. During the interview, the respondents will receive their court date.

Respondents who fail to complete the obligations required by their sanctions will be required to complete the judicial process through the District Court Judge or the Department of Juvenile Services and the offense will become part of the State’s official records.

Yes, the cases and the consequences are real. The Teen Court judge has power to remove from the Courtroom and/or hold in contempt any disruptive or disrespectful Courtroom observers or participants. The Teen Court coordinator and/or the judge reserve the right to refuse to hear the case of any youth who fails to abide by the rules of the Court.

First and foremost, Teen Court places the responsibility of the offense on the teen while avoiding the formal record established by the Department of Juvenile Services. Teen Court helps teens turn a mistake into a hands-on learning experience and reduces the chance of teens committing future criminal acts by increasing the teens’ awareness of the law. Teens acquire valuable work experience while contributing their service to the community. In traffic cases, the program saves teens and parents the expense of fines, points and other court costs.

Teen Court is operated by the Charles County Sheriff’s Office and supported by additional grant funding from the State. Private sponsors make various other contributions to the program.

Yes. Many Teen Court volunteers are prior respondents and, having participated in the program in that capacity, their experience provides Teen Court staff with a unique and very useful perspective. Prior respondents are strongly encouraged to volunteer. Download the youth application

Yes. Volunteering for Teen Court is an educational and rewarding opportunity for teens and adults alike.

Yes. Volunteer jury members receive hour-for-hour credit toward their community service project hours. The project record sheet and guidelines are available from each teen’s respective school. If the school requires a letter from Teen Court, please contact the Teen Court office and allow 48 hours for the letter to be issued. Teen Court will not deliver the letter to the school. The student or a parent must make arrangements to pick up the letter from the Teen Court office.

If Charles County Public Schools close due to inclement weather, there will be no Teen Court session.

For more information or to provide comments about Teen Court, contact Teen Court Coordinator Sarah Vaughan. Call 301-609-3916 or e-mail vaughans@ccso.us.

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