It’s six o’clock p.m. on the last Tuesday of the month. A group of teens and a few adults are gathered in the City of Bellevue
council chambers, which tonight will
be a King County juvenile courtroom.
A teen clerk rises and announces: “All
rise, the Bellevue Youth Court Division
of the King County Juvenile Court is
now in session.” The attendees rise. The
clerk introduces the judge. A teenager
wearing a black robe takes her position
behind the council’s podium. The clerk
continues, “The case before the court is
the matter of the State of Washington
versus John Doe…”
The Bellevue Youth Court (BYC)
is one of approximately 20 youth
courts currently operating in Washington state.
2 Youth courts are part of
a diversionary process where young
offenders, typically between the ages
of 12 and 17, agree to appear before a
court of their peers for misdemeanor
offenses, including shoplifting, graffiti, traffic violations, truancy, school
rule violations, and other misconduct.
Washington state's youth courts were
established by Senate Bill No. 56923
and are governed by the Revised
Code of Washington Title 13 Juvenile
Courts and Juvenile Offenders.
Youth courts follow one of four
models: 1) an adult judge with youth
advocates; 2) a youth judge with youth
advocates; 3) a youth tribunal; or 4)
ayouth jury with youth court personnel. The BYC uses the fourth model.
The officers of the court, including the
judge, jury, clerk, bailiff, and advocates
are all teen volunteers. When the court
TRIALS FOR TEENS BY
JURIES OF THEIR PEERS
is called into session, the respondent’s
fate is in the hands of his or her peers.
Adults are only involved before and
after the court session. The BYC runs
under the guidance of Helena Stephens,
the youth, family and teen services
manager for the City of Bellevue Parks
& Community Services. Stephens trains
the teens for their roles as officers of the
court and coordinates the court dates,
respondents, court officer, and jury roles
for each session.
Volunteer attorneys, one to work with
the defense advocate, the respondent, and
the respondent’s family, and one to work
with the prosecution advocate, meet separately prior to a court session to review
the facts of the case and prepare the advocate’s presentation to the court.
Participants begin their role in the
BYC as jurors. Prior to serving in any
role, the teens are required to attend
two free training sessions each year.
The first teaches participants about the
program, how it operates, and the purpose of restorative justice. The second
focuses on the roles of the jury and the
officers of the court.
Although participants often start
out volunteering for community service
hours as part of school or graduation
requirements, many become interested
in a career in the justice system through
the exposure to the court and the chance
to work with attorneys and judges. However, the biggest rewards were not anticipated by the teens: By participating
they gain maturity and self-confidence,
as well as improved public speaking,
communication, advocacy, civility, and
A teen respondent appearing before
the BYC has been arrested for a nonviolent misdemeanor such as shoplifting. As part of diversion to the BYC, the
respondent has agreed to plead guilty.
Although the City of Bellevue does not
charge respondents to take part in the
diversion program, King County does
charge a small fee based on the respondent’s ability to pay. (For an illustration
of how a case moves through the youth
court see “Bellevue Youth Court Respondent Flowchart” on page 46.)
Although the respondent has agreed
to plead guilty, the prosecution advocate
still plays an important role. She presents the facts of the case, extracted from
a redacted police report and witness
statements, and provides the jury with
the elements of the law, for example, the
elements of theft in the third degree.
The prosecution advocate also provides
a narrative of how the respondent’s actions affect the community and she provides the prosecution’s recommended
restorative justice sentence.
The defense advocate presents the
respondent’s version of the facts. Although the facts of the case will be
similar, he informs the jury of how the
respondent has already been punished
at home, typically by having to pay
for the stolen merchandise and being
grounded. Usually, the respondent has
also been subject to a significant civil
penalty because the respondent was
liable for conversion of goods or merchandise from a store or mercantile
5 and they are likely subject to criminal trespass charges if they
enter either the store for a specified
by Michael Cherry
Youth Courts Provide Peer-Driven Justice