I’m encouraged by the strong response we’re getting from all of you regarding our Teen Court program. I share your enthusiasm. If you’re still not on board or want more evidence of the power of this program, let me relate my recent experience:
Three Barristers representatives were proctors at the inaugural Teen Court at Anahuacalmecac High School in South Pasadena/East Los Angeles. Anahuacalmecac (pronounced “anna-WALK-a-may-a”) is a Native American charter school; its teachers and students are primarily Native American.
Teen Court at Anahuacalmecac is overseen by two Native American judges: Judge Sanchez and Judge Lopez. Incidentally, both judges are Beverly Hills Bar Foundation Scholarship recipients – the BHBA’s good works resonating through our community!
Before the Court stood a 17-year-old from an affluent school. She was an honor student with a 4.1 GPA and intensely involved in extra-curricular activities.
We learned she had an internship with a congresswoman lined up after graduation. To all outside appearances this young woman was entirely on the right track. But her charging documents indicated she had caused a car accident (with no injuries to the other driver) and she was accused of driving under the influence of prescription medication. Now she and her parents stood before the student jurors.
The questioning was intense. The students asked about the accused’s family life. They grilled her about the pressures she faced at school. They did not stop with initial questions – they dug deep and asked follow-up after follow-up. It was revealed that, though the parents didn’t believe they applied pressure to succeed, the accused felt a strong internal pressure to please everyone. Between school, extra-curricular activities, and her world’s expectations, she felt she just couldn’t keep up. The night of the accident, it emerged that she got into an argument with her parents and – fed up – took two full bottles of her own prescription medication, intending to kill herself. She got into her car to drive to a friend’s house, passed out, and ran into another car.
The heart-wrenching facts couldn’t have hit closer to home for the jurors. They’ve also faced home and school anxieties, intense pressures to succeed: to get good grades but also to have laundry lists of extra-curriculars. And they saw a person their own age driven to the breaking point. It was clear they were absorbing the lessons, and remember: it was up to them to determine what should be done.
While the jurors deliberated, the two judges discussed the case with the student audience. They talked at length about the consequences for the accused had she not been diverted into Teen Court. A DUI at 17 would mean her dreams of a successful career would be put on hold if not entirely shattered. All her hard work might have evaporated over a single decision.
The jury returned a guilty verdict. But for this young woman, her sentencing was tailored to rehabilitation and growth. She received counseling and community service. She will get the help she needs to deal with the pressures she faces. And if she successfully completes her probation, her record will be clear.
It’s a concrete example of the second chances that Teen Court provides. If you’re ready to lend a hand, please contact Aimy Zodieru at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310 975 9694. We want your help.
William S. Wenzel is a business and corporate attorney at The Law Offices of William S. Wenzel, APC. His office serves as outside general counsel for hire and can be contacted at 213 207 6885 or email@example.com.