by Jennifer Zhan, senior editor

When and why did you go to Teen Court?

Just before summer last year, I was speeding at the end of the school zone that’s on Southwest. It was my first time driving to school by myself, it was actually like 21 hours after I got my license. I sped up like a little bit before the end of the school zone and was going four miles per hour over the speed limit of the school zone, and the cop was like- uh uh.

How were you notified that you had to go?

The cop told me that since I was a minor, there were other options for me than just paying a fine or whatever, so we called the municipal court office. [They told us] if you’re a certain age, you can do Teen Court, but you have to go in front of a judge to determine whether you’re eligible, which I ended up being, because I was 16.

Could you define Teen Court for someone who doesn’t know what it is?

It’s if you mess up or have like a minor offense, whether it’s like a speeding ticket or theft or something. Then you get to go to court and you do a bunch of community service hours and you serve on a Teen Court jury. That way you don’t have to pay a fine and it gets wiped from your record, so it’s like a way to make a mistake without it haunting you forever.

Could you walk me through what happened in the court room?

So I showed up with both of my parents, and we went and waited for our name to get called. And then I went in front of the judge and he asked me what happened that day. So I explained what happened. He asked if I pleaded guilty or not guilty, and I pleaded guilty because I was speeding. Then he asked if I wanted to do Teen Court and I said yes, and then he banged the gavel announced that I was eligible. 

Do you feel like you learned anything about the justice system from your experience?

I learned that it’s much more tedious than I’d ever wanna deal with ever again. It’s not worth it, because you have to show up like 3 times in court and do a bunch of community service, and it’s the worst.

What were the other times for?

Well, we had to show up at the courtroom for a meeting with the Teen Court coordinator. And we had to show up for jury trials, so I served on a Teen Court jury. I had a trial that was like in front of a Teen Court jury, so like other students that had been doing Teen Court were my jury and I went and pleaded my case to them. They determined how many community service hours I would have. I ended up with the minimum for my class 3, so that was 32 hours of community service. I did it over the summer.

If you had to give advice to other teens going to Teen Court, what would it be?

I’d just make sure to be really really respectful. And show your remorse when you’re in front of the Teen jury, because even if it was a minor offense, it’s important to demonstrate that you learned your lesson.

Why is it important to have this alternative option for teens who commit offenses?

I mean, what 16 year old has $300 laying around? Not me. Instead of paying a fine, which usually the parents would pay for, the minor is in charge of making up for whatever offense that they did, through community service. So it’s really on the person who made the error, and so then they learn their lesson.