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Clallam's Teen Court to be on TV

Lights, camera ... "All rise for Teen Court."

TVW, the Washington State Public Affairs TV network, is showcasing Clallam County's Teen Court in a series titled "Engaged: Students Becoming Citizens."

The program shows students across Washington learning about and participating in government and politics.

It covers Washington youths involved in the state Legislature and in world affairs, among other activities. In the next four to six weeks, camera operators will be filming Sequim and Port Angeles teens involving in Clallam County's Teen Court.

"Producers are waiting for our schedule to set an exact time for filming," said Teen Court coordinator Danetta Rutten.

"But all in all, this program is a go. We're really excited and honored that we were picked to showcase what teen courts are all about."

Whether they are teens or adults in Washington state, first-time or nonviolent criminal offenders have a chance to take responsibility for their actions without the need to formally plead guilty in court.

`The pretrial option is called diversion and if the accused are able to complete the diversion program, county or state prosecutors will drop the criminal charge against them.

In the case of juveniles, however, things operate a little differently than in adult diversion.

"Everyone involved is a teenager," said Rutten. "Judge, jury, defense counsel and the prosecuting attorneys are all kids dedicated to learning the legal system and helping those who enter it."

Not all juvenile offenders are allowed into Teen Court, but those who are admitted assume responsibility for their actions and work with the Teen Court staff to determine the best way to set things right.

"I think people watching this program in the state will be pleasantly surprised at the way our teens handle the court proceedings," Rutten said.

Outcomes are aimed at being restorative.

Rather than sending a 16-year-old who was found in possession of drug paraphernalia to jail, the Teen Court has had outcomes that require the offender to do something more creative.

"One drug offense led to a young man building an anti-drug-themed bench," Rutten said. "Or another one who was caught skateboarding on a roof had to put together a photo essay of all the legal areas to skateboard."

If the accused youth is not compliant or does not complete what the jury decides, the charges are forwarded to the Clallam County Prosecutor's office to be filed again, but in criminal court instead of Teen Court.

"It's a big benefit to those that participate on both sides of the bench, so to speak," said Peninsula College student Rachel Thompson.

Thompson, 18, spent two years on the court and still returns to advise newcomers of the proceedings.

"Those respondents who are there because of some mistake can realize it was just an error and can change their ways before entering jail or anything like that," she said. "Plus, those who are there in the court end up learning a lot about law, debate and court proceedings."

Thompson said she isn't going into law but she knows several in the court have indicated interest in taking their teen court experience further, possibly into a career.

"I started out in the jury but was moved eventually to prosecution," Thompson said, indicating she was judge once or twice, too.

"It's actually quite fun. And you end up learning things about yourself as well as the system."

Thompson said she's learned not to judge people on their court-related backgrounds.

"Tolerance, for lack of a better word, is what I took away from Teen Court," she said.

"It's easy to look down on people because of mistakes they made. But I think it's better to look at how they've come out of that."

Both Rutten and Thompson said they hope the public will see the positive impacts Teen Court is having on the youths involved.

For TVW's schedule or for more information on the "Engaged" series, visit www.tvw.org.



Reach Evan McLean at

emclean@sequimgazette.com





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