By Neha Nimmagadda
The cell door clanged shut behind three Harvard-Westlake students and science teacher David Hinden.
Hinden, the Upper Schoolâs Mock Trial coach chaperoned a trip to the Van Nuys Superior Court for three students to participate in a Teen Court hearing on April 13. Hana Al-Henaid â10, Andrew Hartford â11, and Courtney Kelly â11 sat on a jury of teenagers to hear juvenile cases and toured a criminal holding cell.
“Everything was very informal â we were able to ask any questions we had directly to the minor,” Kelly said. “After we had a good idea of the case at hand, we went into a separate room and deliberated the sentence. The crimes committed by the minors earned them various types of probation â from a curfew, to community service, to letters of apology.”
Al-Henaid, Hartford, and Kelly were on the jury for both of the Teen Court cases heard that afternoon.
The main advantage to Teen Court is that if the juvenile satisfactorily completes the terms of the punishment, the crime does not go on his or her record.
“This is meant to be an informal process because it gives somebody a chance to [work] off the conditions of probation and not have a criminal record,” Hinden said. “Itâs amazing how messed up you can get with even a minor criminal conviction at 17, and this really gives kids the opportunity to avoid that. The probation department looks for kids who they think will benefit from this.”
Though the hearing was not formatted exactly like a real trial, it allowed students the opportunity to experience a real court and crime, Hinden said.
“Getting to hear the kidsâ sides of the stories was a very real experience,” Kelly said. “You always assume that âcriminalsâ arenât like you… but these are really just kids that made mistakes, like any of us.”
“This isnât a simulated exercise,” Hinden said. “They hear a short case as a jury. They make a recommendation as to what the probationary terms should be and the judge will typically apply that, so their recommendation is turned into a legal probation order that has to be followed.”
Hinden hopes to expand the experience into a monthly event next year.
“I guess what I would envision is maybe a rotating group of kids that could do it maybe once a year,” Hinden said. “I think the real issue would be faculty coverage because the Teen Court occurs in the early afternoon and somebody would have to miss classes, but weâll see. If we can do it, it would be a good thing.”
Juveniles recommended by the probation department have to admit to wrong doing and receive consent from guardians to participate in Teen Court.