Teen Courts May Know Better Than Adults How To Set Punishment


The jury’s decision on the 15-year-old scofflaw was swift and unanimous: Guilty. Then the 12 jurors moved on to the question of what consequences the vandal should face for his actions. “I kinda wanna go pretty hard,” volunteered one juror in a hooded sweat shirt and basketball shorts, gesturing with his arms, the Los Angeles Times reports. “He’s reckless!” A fellow juror, standing with arms crossed and head cocked, was a little more sympathetic.

The defendant was convicted of misdemeanor vandalism for turning on the emergency showers in his middle school’s science lab on a dare. The flooding did more than $2,000 in damage. At the moment, his fate rested in the hands of jurors just barely older than him. The teen court at Dorsey High in South Los Angeles is one of 17 in the county where students decide the cases of first-time juvenile offenders accused of misdemeanors including tagging, petty theft, drug possession, and prostitution. Adults involved say that these teens, who perform their civic duty with part somber responsibility and part gleeful curiosity, often know better than legal professionals why a teen did what he or she did, and what punishment will change his or her behavior.

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