Teen court ready for April kickoff

February 16, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Morgan County's new teen court coordinator brings a lot of experience to his new role.

Charlie Willard spent 34 years working for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, including supervising children's services and juvenile probation. 

The first teen court is to be held in April, and Willard is recruiting teens from Berkeley Springs High and Warm Springs Middle schools to participate. He will begin training them in March. 

About 18 teens will participate in each trial, serving as prosecuting and defense attorneys, bailiffs, court clerks and jurors. An adult attorney will serve as teen court judge.  


Teen court is an alternative system of justice for seventh- to 12th-graders who are primarily first-time offenders of nonviolent crimes. It is legally binding, the offenders must volunteer and a criminal record will not be created for the offense. Examples of offenses are underage drinking or tobacco use, shoplifting or vandalism, Willard said.  

Four cases a month will be heard in a courtroom setting during the evening hours.

"It's a good learning experience," he said.

A teen court club will be established, Willard said.

"The club will help them learn together. Eventually, the experienced teens will train the newcomers with adult support," he said.

Willard is pleased by the support for teen court.

"Everyone's behind the program," he said. "This is literally from the ground up. Most programs are from the top down, and this is what is exciting about it. We can make it our own." 

The program is meant to hold kids accountable for their actions, Willard said. If vandalism is the crime, the victim might be asked what the restitution could be, such as a monetary sum, making physical repairs, writing a letter of apology or writing an essay about the harm of vandalism, he said.

The jury can be creative in choosing the appropriate sentence, but it must be submitted in writing to the judge for approval. The sentence must include community service of 16 to 40 hours, and the offender must participate twice as a jury member.   

"The probation officers are the gatekeepers," Willard said, as they choose the eligible offenders and send the referrals to teen court.

Probation officers Danielle Robertson and Sean Bryner are looking forward to the anticipated April start date.

"We believe it will address some of the juvenile issues we currently are experiencing," Robertson said. "It is a tremendous opportunity for all the participants."

Morgan County is the first county in the Eastern Panhandle to implement the teen court program.


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