Teen Court helps young offenders take responsibility

By EMILY KEEFER, The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — The teens involved in Berkeley County Teen Court recently honed their skills and recently held a mock trial with several special guests.

Judge Bridget Cohee of the West Virginia 23rd Judicial Circuit was there to observe the process in the courtroom and provide feedback to the students. In addition, Bowles Rice Associate Attorney Hannah French and Jake Mills, Associate at The Criminal Law Center, Kevin D. Mills & Associates PLLC also provided feedback.

The Berkeley County Teen Court strives to help juvenile delinquents take responsibility for their actions while providing them with tools to help them make better decisions, the official description reads.

“Our alternative court process strengthens communication between families, schools and law enforcement. The result is a safer community and a healthier future for our children.

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“Teen courts offer opportunities to make amends for their crimes through community service, educational classes, and jury service. The clerk, jury, defense attorney and prosecutor are youth court youth volunteers. The judge will be a licensed attorney.”

Lou Anne Kramer, Berkeley County Juvenile Court Coordinator, said at the event that she is very proud of how far the students participating in the program have come.

The program is beneficial to anyone who wishes to volunteer, but especially those with an interest in criminal justice, human rights, or political science.

“Teen Court is a great opportunity for you to experience the court process. Being a part of the program will polish your public speaking, conflict resolution and advocacy skills,” the description reads.

Teen Court offers teens the opportunity to meet and work with others in Berkeley County, including influential members of the Berkeley County community, such as judges, attorneys and educators; participate in a hands-on educational opportunity to better understand the legal system; and build self-esteem in safe environments.

Youth volunteers must be under the age of 18 and also be of satisfactory academic standing, respect the Oath of Confidentiality, demonstrate maturity, respect and integrity, and be recommended by a school official.

The eligibility of the offender is the same in terms of age, with requirements being under the age of 18 and allegedly having committed a status offense or an offense which amounts to a misdemeanor if committed by an adult.

The decision to extend the opportunity to enter juvenile court as an alternative procedure is made by the district court if the court determines that the juvenile is eligible for the program.

“The youth must agree to participate in the program, as must their parent or legal guardian. A juvenile may appear before a juvenile court only once every two years,” the official website reads.

Additionally, Taylor Strack, who played defense attorney for the night’s mock trial, received a surprise award from Greg Puckett of the WV Teen Court Association. She received a check for attending an upcoming major conference.

As a result of the award, Strack will now be traveling to the National Youth Leadership Forum in Washington, DC this summer to learn, get involved and represent the region.

This year’s event will be hosted by George Mason University and Strack will be able to participate in interviews with attorney generals, attorneys and more, as well as attend mock trials and listen to keynote speakers.

“I firmly believe that people like you and every other person in this courtroom have a story to tell,” Puckett told Strack. “You have to be able to tell that story about what West Virginia is, what Martinsburg is, Berkeley County. make us all proud; you’re doing a good job.”

Strack is a sophomore at Martinsburg High School and is passionate about the Berkeley County Teen Court.

Puckett spoke about the importance of the program across the state and in the lives of the youth involved.

To participate in Berkeley County Teen Court, students or parents should contact school administrators, teachers, and guidance counselors who have access to court referral forms.

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