Teens in court must face judges who are Oakwood High School students

Oakwood has a teen court where qualifying juvenile offenders are judged by high school students.

The diversionary program allows first-time offenders who are minors and fit the criteria — regardless of where they live — to avoid Montgomery County Juvenile Court and a possible criminal record.

“If the offense is committed in Oakwood and you are a teenager and you otherwise meet the criteria, you will be directed to teen court with one big condition: You have to admit that you did it,” court adviser Chris Conard told Oakwood City Council this week.

“If you want to deny it, you’re going downtown” to juvenile court, he added.

Aside from admitting guilt, the young defendants must have committed a non-violent crime, Conard said. Typically, these offenses involve less than $1,000 in property damage or are minor traffic violations, by far the most common cases the teen court hears, he added.

The Oakwood program started in 1963 and is sanctioned by the county’s juvenile court, records show.

More than 30 years later, there were 78 youth courts nationwide, according to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Today, more than 1,400 exist.

“I believe the experience deters future offenses and allows young people to learn valuable life experiences without the fear of a lifelong impact for conduct that is the due to youthful indiscretion and poor judgment,” Conard told the Dayton Daily News.

“Teen courts give teenagers a chance to learn important life lessons before they become adults,” he added.

All teen court records are confidential, according to county documents.

This is the first year the court compiled an annual summary of cases, Oakwood Safety Director Alan Hill said.

Of the four cases eligible in the 2022-23 school year, two took part in the diversion program, and two others opted out and were referred to juvenile court, records show.

A satellite juvenile court operates in Miamisburg through a partnership with the city, the Miami Twp. Police Dept., and the Miamisburg, Valley View and the West Carrollton school districts, county spokeswoman Erika Mattingly said.

That program, which started in 1995, is also diversionary, but the cases are heard by Magistrate Katie Lenski, according to county juvenile court Administrator Eric Shafer.

Officials “in that area wanted to provide local resources for you low-risk, first-time offenders and came together to develop the process,” Shafer said in an email.

“The juvenile court works closely with the staff to monitor cases and working to develop needed resources,” he added, noting that the program is locally funded.

Franklin County’s teen court is similar to Oakwood’s in that first-time offenders are judged by their peers, according to records.

“The youthful offender becomes better equipped to make better life choices, change negative behaviors and leads to the enhancement of public safety,” Franklin County’s website states.

In Oakwood, minors may be referred to teen court along with at least one parent or guardian, according to the city.

Eligible cases include misdemeanor traffic offenses that do not involve impaired driving, those within the $1,000 property damage threshold and offenses that do not involve possession of weapons, drugs or drug paraphernalia, Oakwood record show.

Sentences can vary from work projects, restitution, license suspension, or other sanctions, city records state.

Only Oakwood High School juniors and seniors are eligible to be judges, who serve one-year terms, Conard said. Candidates must apply and are picked in a competitive process, he added.

Commonly, 10-12 judges serve, but due to scheduling conflicts usually five to seven hear cases, Conard said.

“Deliberations are lively, thoughtful discussions that lead to fair punishment,” he added.

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