Teen Court Helps Young Offenders Take Responsibility

Berkeley County Teen Court volunteers swear in a witness before the court while participating in a mock trial, where students take the roles of prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, jury, witnesses and others, at the Berkeley County Judicial Building in Martinsburg, W.Va., on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (Emily Keefer/The Journal via AP)
Berkeley County Teen Court volunteers swear in a witness before the court while participating in a mock trial, where students take the roles of prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, jury, witnesses and others, at the Berkeley County Judicial Building in Martinsburg, W.Va., on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (Emily Keefer/The Journal via AP)
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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — The teenagers involved in Berkeley County Teen Court have recently been fine-tuning their skills and recently held a mock trial with several special guests in attendance.

Judge Bridget Cohee of the West Virginia 23rd Judicial Circuit was there to watch the trial in the courtroom and give feedback to the students. Additionally, Bowles Rice associate attorney Hannah French and Jake Mills, associate at The Criminal Law Center, Kevin D. Mills & Associates PLLC, offered feedback as well.

Berkeley County Teen Court strives to assist juvenile offenders in assuming responsibility for their actions, while providing tools to aid them in making better decisions, the official description said.

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

“Teen court provides the opportunity to make restitution for their offenses through community service, educational classes and jury service. The court clerk, jury, defense attorney and prosecuting attorney consists of teen court youth volunteers. The judge will be a licensed attorney.”

Berkeley County Teen Court Coordinator Lou Anne Kramer explained at the event that she is extremely proud of how far the students who participate in the program have come.

The program is one beneficial to anyone wanting to volunteer but especially for those interested in criminal justice, human rights or political science.

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

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

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

Offender eligibility is the same, regarding age, with requirements to be under 18 and to have allegedly committed a status offense or an act of delinquency equivalent to a misdemeanor if committed by an adult.

The decision to extend the option to enter the teen court as an alternative procedure is made by the local circuit court if the court finds that the youth is suitable for the program.

“The youth must consent to participation in the program, as must his or her parent or guardian. A youth may only appear in teen court once within a two-year period,” the official website said.

Additionally at the event, Taylor Strack, who played the defense attorney for the mock trial for the night, received a surprise award from Greg Puckett, from the WV Teen Court Association. She received a check to attend a large conference coming up.

Because of the award, Strack will now be heading to Washington, D.C., this summer for the National Youth Leadership Forum to learn, engage and represent the area.

This year’s event is going to be hosted by George Mason University, and Strack will get to participate in conversations with attorneys general, attorneys and more, as well as be a part of mock trials and listen to keynote speakers.

“I fully believe that people like yourself and every other person in this courtroom have a story to tell,” Puckett said to 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 are doing a great job.”

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

Puckett talked about the importance of the program throughout the state and in the lives of youth involved.

To get involved in Berkeley County Teen Court, students or parents should reach out to school administrators, teachers and guidance counselors who have access to referral forms for the court.