Warren County Youth Court in session | New

A Warren County juvenile justice system program broadened the age range for the concept of a peer jury.

Warren County has joined 16 other counties in the state operating a youth court, in which accused minors who have pleaded guilty to certain non-violent offenses will have their sentences set by a teenage jury who will consider arguments and evidence presented by the students assuming the roles. prosecution and defense lawyers.

In a ceremony Tuesday at the Warren County Justice Center, 62 students were sworn in for the 2021-2022 session of Warren County Teen Court.

Warren District Court Judge Kim Geoghegan has sought to bring the program here, contacting the Kentucky Court of Justice Department of Family and Youth Services, which offers the program, about its interest.

From there, Geoghegan and statewide Teen Court coordinator Billy Stover traveled to high schools in the community to recruit interested students.

Geoghegan came away impressed with the number of students who signed up, and their approach to their duties during a one-day training session last month left her optimistic about the potential of the program.

“I am very impressed with the professionalism of our students,” said Geoghegan. “They are eager to participate in this program, they were prepared when we assigned the assignments, they take this responsibility seriously and they want to do a good job. “

Launched in 1992, Teen Court assumes that most young people want to do the right thing when they make decisions, and that minors appearing before their peers are more willing to fix bad decisions and avoid committing future ones. offenses.

Molly Arnold, a junior at Bowling Green High School, said she had been interested in a legal career since the age of 10 and jumped at the chance to deal with real cases.

Arnold participated as a defense attorney in a mock trial held during training last month, which she said boosted her interest in the legal field.

“As I walked on the floor and talked to the jury, I found out how much I liked it,” Arnold said. “Taking this opportunity is a great experience to have and has helped further ensure that I want to be a lawyer. “

When a young offender has admitted guilt for a non-violent offense, he or she has the option of taking their case to youth court for conviction.

The tribunal will meet once a month, and although two serving local judges will preside over the case file, student volunteers will take on the remaining roles, including jurors, lawyers, bailiffs and clerks.

Youth court jurors will learn the facts of a case and the background of a young accused.

Students volunteering as defense lawyers preparing cases will have the opportunity a week before each session to meet with the accused, their parents and a court-appointed worker to learn more about what brought the accused to court. youth court.

Sentences can include community service, a letter of apology from the accused, or service on a future jury in youth court.

Geoghegan said a number of local lawyers mentor the participating students.

Tuesday’s ceremony ended with a pair of mock trials, offering a demonstration of the skills students are learning.

Avery Yates, senior at South Warren High School, and Emma Dowell, junior at Greenwood High School, took turns carrying on their respective affairs.

“It gets hot in a courtroom,” Yates said. “I have had some experience with public speaking, but doing it in court, giving opening statements, asking questions is a lot of quick thinking because you never know what an accused is going to do. say… we have to listen carefully and add to our arguments.

Yates and Dowell both aspire to careers in law, and Dowell said she was grateful to be able to exercise her mental agility and bond with other volunteers.

“When I first heard of this I was almost surprised at how we as high school kids are able to pursue real cases,” said Dowell. “I felt really inspired by this and wanted to do it immediately after hearing about it.”

– Follow forensic reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

– Follow forensic reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

About Jessica J. Bass

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