By using a little ingenuity, Metroport Teen Court is still in session despite changes associated with COVID-19.
Teen Court is a voluntary program funded by the cities of Colleyville, Grapevine, Keller, and Southlake that allows teens in middle school or high school the opportunity to keep Class C Misdemeanors off their permanent record. Teen defendants go through a trial before a jury of their peers who then assess community service hours and jury terms for them to complete.
Holding trials for defendants ordered to complete Teen Court by judges from four cities often results in gatherings of over a hundred people at the Southlake Municipal Court building on Tuesday evenings. But now, two challenges are facing Teen Court: how to hold Teen Court trials when gatherings are limited in size and moving existing cases through the program when teens aren’t able to complete traditional community service hours.
With approval from the cities’ respective judges, Dana Falk, the Teen Court Clerk, and Colleen Anson, Office Assistant, have developed some smart ways in which teens can enroll, have their trials heard, and even complete community service at a distance.
Teen Court Changes
The first thing to figure out was how to move forward on current Teen Court cases where sentencing is still required. Instead of performing external community service, teens can now complete essays or poster boards (digital or physical) and submit those items electronically. Additionally, teens can complete online driver safety, anger management, or alcohol and drug courses, in place of performing community service hours. After trial, defendants are also asked to serve on e-juries to fulfill their assigned jury terms.
For new cases coming into Teen Court, teens can now complete an enrollment over the phone with Teen Court staff. After being enrolled, the teen’s trial will consist of an emailed questionnaire comprised of questions typically asked by the jury. Their teen’s answers are then submitted to a jury panel of pre-selected teens to review the defendant’s responses. The jurors will then sentence the teen defendant to community service hours based on those answers.
“We are looking forward to the day that Metroport Teen Court can again be held in person,” said Kristin McGrail, Southlake’s Municipal Court Manager. “But until then, Teen Court will continue to serve our community and our partner cities in the best ways possible.”