Teen Court offers opportunities, second chances

By Brittany Hively - [email protected]

Teen Court takes place in a court room in the Mason County Courthouse in Point Pleasant.

Teen Court takes place in a court room in the Mason County Courthouse in Point Pleasant.

Brittany Hively | OVP

POINT PLEASANT — Students in the junior/senior high schools of Mason County have the opportunity to get a taste of trial hearings with Teen Court.

Teen Court is sponsored through the Mason County Family Resource Network (FRN) and Prevention Coalition.

“Teen Court is used for first time teenage offenders,” said Bree Ramey, organizer. “Normally the cases that we have go through are tobacco on school property.”

Ramey said they also have cases of underage drinking, truancy and other minor offenses.

“If they’re all minor offenses, and they are all first time offenders [then] when the child gets a ticket written for it [and] goes to magistrate court who can decide to refer it to Teen Court. Now, the tobacco and school property cases, [from] the PRO officers, they pretty much just send them straight to us.”

If the magistrate decides the case would be a good Teen Court case or when the PRO officer sends them to Teen Court, cases are scheduled once a month at the courthouse.

The court hearings are for student cases, with students participating as the lawyers and the jury.

The judge varies with availability from local lawyers, Ramey, Greg Fowler with FRN, and others. This judge is generally the only adult involved, Ramey said, letting the students lead the trial.

Prior to the trial, there is a short training for students.

“We do have training that they go through for that,” Ramey said. “Where they learn what questions to ask, it’s like a regular court case. It has kind of a script we follow.”

Ramey said the unique aspect of Teen Court is the oath of confidentiality.

“Everybody who is in the room, as soon as we start, has to take the oath of confidentiality,” Ramey said. “Which basically says they can’t talk about anything that’s said in there to anyone, at school, whatever, they just can’t talk about it.

“Because our community is very small, so generally they all know each other or at least they go to the same high school maybe or something like that,” Ramey said. “There’s no way really to avoid that. Even the parents that are in the room, if a parent stays in, they have to take the oath of confidentiality.”

Ramey said by coming to Teen Court, it is like the student is pleading no contest.

“We don’t decide guilt or innocence at Teen Court,” Ramey said. “It’s basically, they’re saying, ‘yes, I did this.’ and then they get [sentenced]. We have a grid of community service hours and nights of jury duty. So depending on what type of offense they jury is looking at, like if it is tobacco on school property, then there’s a grid that shows how many community service hours the minimum and maximum they can do.”

Tobacco on school property is the most commonly seen case in Teen Court, Ramey said.

“The jury will decide that [community service hours],” Ramey said. “They’ll also decide how many nights of jury duty. Everybody who comes through has to serve on the jury at least twice. But they can tell them to come more than that if they want. Also, very common is assigning an essay on like, why you shouldn’t vape or one of the other things. Sometimes they’ll ask for pictures — what that would do to someone over time.”

While those who go through Teen Court serve on the jury, Ramey said any student can volunteer to join the jury or be a lawyer as much as they like.

When it comes to lawyers, the court has both a prosecuting and defense attorney, as a normal court case would have.

“By coming to Teen Court, you’ve pretty much acknowledged you did it. So the defense attorney basically is arguing for the minimum sentence, like why you should only get 23 hours of community service instead of 38,” Ramey said. “The prosecuting attorney might argue for the 38 hours of community service and a 500 word essay and seven days of jury duty because they think it’s a harsher offense.

“The prosecuting attorney kind of sets it all up, so they have to ask the standard questions, like name, how old are you, what grade you’re in, your school, all that. They ask all the background information and then ask about what happened,” Ramey said. “The defense attorney might ask, what did you get in trouble for that at school? How were you punished at home? So, that the jury might get the sense that this kid has already been suspended from school and had their phone taken away for three weeks, maybe they’ve already been punished, we’ll go easy on it.”

Ramey said some of the more serious cases they have seen, such as underage drinking or other more serious offenses, the jury has taken the case “very seriously.”

Ramey said the number of jurors varies anywhere from as few as seven to as many as 12 or 13. Participating students also receive community service hours for taking part.

The program which has been in existence since about 2010, seems to be effective, said Ramey, immediately thinking of a situation.

“We had a young man who got in trouble for tobacco on school property,” Ramey said. “He served his jury duty and the last night he was there on jury duty, he was like ‘do you think I could be an attorney?’ So, I was like ‘if you want to still participate.’ So he came back for the training and the was an attorney for the rest of that year before he graduated. I think it definitely made a difference for him and how he views smoking.”

Ramey said students and/or parents can asked to be referred to Teen Court.

Once finished with the community service or whate the jurors assign, Ramey turns the information into the prosecutor’s office with a letter of completion and the offense is off the student’s record, as if it never happened.

“That is another bonus for them for going through Teen Court,” Ramey said.

Ramey said this is more effective than if a parent simply pays the ticket off.

Students can participate in whatever community service they like, but Ramey can help find opportunities if needed.

Students in seventh grade and up can participate as a juror or lawyer, with lawyers being high schooler students most of the time.

Students who go through Teen Court will also participate in Teen Institute, learning prevention and participating in the mock trial where students act out different parts.

“That’s a lot of fun,” Ramey said. “And they all always want to be the kid that’s in trouble. All of them fight over that.”

The cases are normally the second Thursday of the month at 4:30 p.m.

Ramey said students interested in the program can show up to the “hearing” to serve on the jury or contact her for more information and training.

Those students interested in participating can contact Bree Ramey at 740-339-0044 or [email protected]

Students from all Mason County junior/senior high schools are welcome.

© 2022, Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.

Teen Court takes place in a court room in the Mason County Courthouse in Point Pleasant.
https://www.mydailyregister.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2022/04/web1_IMG_7145.jpgTeen Court takes place in a court room in the Mason County Courthouse in Point Pleasant. Brittany Hively | OVP

By Brittany Hively

[email protected]

Brittany Hively is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Follow her on Twitter @britthively; reach her at (740) 446-2342 ext 2555.

Brittany Hively is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Follow her on Twitter @britthively; reach her at (740) 446-2342 ext 2555.