The 14-year-old lawyer rose from his chair at the prosecution table, eyes flashing. “Objection — relevance!” he cried to the judge. In a real Clark County , Nv., courtroom, before a real judge, misbehaving high schoolers are on trial before juries of other teens with fellow students prosecuting and defending them, reports the Las Vegas Sun. The consequences are real. A student convicted of fighting could be sentenced to between eight and 40 hours of community service.
The idea behind the Trial by Peers program, a partnership of the judiciary, the juvenile justice system, and the Clark County Bar Association, is peer pressure. A 50-year-old judge telling a 15-year-old miscreant to shape up might have just the opposite effect. Other 15-year-olds might be able to convince the troublemaker that his actions aren’t cool. Officials expect the Trial by Peers caseload to double or triple in the coming year — from 150 cases a year to as many as 450 — as it begins accepting referrals directly from schools rather than from the juvenile justice system. Previously, to get into the program, students first had to be arrested. Juvenile judges have been complaining about the criminalization of school discipline. The officials say the problem is a national one and chalk it up to the increasing presence of police on grade school campuses as well as parents’ threats to sue.