Teen Court receives case referrals from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s office, the Department of Juvenile Justice, Juvenile Court, Traffic Court, area schools, and parents. After receiving a referral, Teen Court staff schedules an appointment with the teen and his or her parent/caregiver to begin the process.
During the initial intake meeting, Teen Court staff, working with the teen and parent/ caregiver, identifies and assesses the teen’s current situation, issues, and needs. Staff determines the most appropriate and effective means of helping the teen and provides the teen with information about the process, and what to expect. As part of the assessment, a drug test is administered.
Pictured - Lashelle Williams, North County Client Coordinator and DEVIN EPPS, South County Client Coordinator
DEFENDANTS The defendant appears in a Sarasota County courthouse in either Sarasota or South County and the case is presented before a judge and jury. The judge in Teen Court is an adult from the law community, a lawyer, judge, or law enforcement officer. The jury in Teen Court consists of juveniles, both former defendants and teen volunteers from the community. One or more Teen Attorneys interview the defendant and act as the defense attorneys in the proceeding. The State of Florida is represented by volunteer teen attorneys.
The defense attorneys and prosecuting attorneys each give an opening statement and the defendant is then sworn in and asked questions about the incident. Each side then gives a closing statement which includes a summary of the case and a recommendation by the attorneys of what they think the sentence should be.
The Teen Jury discusses the case and decides what the constructive sentence will be. The verdict is read in the courtroom in front of the defendant and family. The teen and family meet with the case manager, review next steps, and sign a contract detailing the youth’s responsibilities with the program.
VOLUNTEERS Teen volunteers serve as Clerks, Bailiffs, Jury Members, and Attorneys on Court Night. Before court starts, teen attorneys review all the cases that will be heard and assign a rating to the case that reflects the seriousness of the offense. These ratings provide sentencing guidelines to the jurors. Jurors are assigned to jury pools that hear the cases and determine the sentence. Bailiffs and Clerks assist the judge during the hearing.COMPLETION Successful completion of Teen Court means completing the constructive sentence which may include community service hours, jury duty, attendance at Camp X-RAYD, counseling, and special instructions like essays and written apologies. The specific sentence is outlined in the individual youth contract. Upon completion, the charge(s) are dismissed, and there is no record of a conviction for the charge(s).