When it comes to crimes committed by juveniles, Colorado tries to take a restorative approach whenever possible. That word "restorative" is even explicitly written into Colorado law. As Colorado Revised Statutes Title 19 Children's Code § 19-2-102 states:
"...victims and communities should be provided with the opportunity to elect to participate actively in a restorative process that would hold the juvenile offender accountable for his or her offense."
In accordance with this statute, Colorado Springs has authorized the Teen Court program to resolve juvenile crime cases using restorative justice principles. Teen Court encourages offenders to take responsibility for their actions, while minimizing the negative consequences that follow an arrest.
How do Teen Court and restorative justice work?
Colorado Springs Teen Court is not an arm of government. It's actually an independent non-profit organization that is empowered to hear cases and impose sentences. Here's how Teen Court uses restorative justice principles in its work:
In most cases, a juvenile offender must first plead guilty to the charge in Municipal Court. If the judge thinks that the offender is an appropriate candidate for Teen Court and could benefit from it, the judge will defer the sentence and refer the case to Teen Court.
Based on the nature of the case and the offender's needs, the professional staff at Teen Court will then choose an appropriate approach. This could be a mediation, a peer panel of student volunteers, or a Teen Court trial in a courtroom with student attorneys. The offender must then complete a sentence, which could include community service, a life skills class, restitution, a letter of apology, or participation in a restorative justice session.
A restorative justice mediation session brings the offender and crime victim together. The victim will have an opportunity to tell the offender about the effect the crime had on the victim's life. The offender comes face-to-face with the victim, and the situation usually compels the offender to take responsibility for his or her actions.
For a period of six months, the guilty plea still appears on the offender's record. After that time and after the offender has successfully completed the sentence, the Municipal Court judge will then dismiss the charge. One year after the dismissal of the charge, the juvenile can seek an expungement.
Teen Court has a high success rate
The reoffense rate for Colorado Springs Teen Court is 7 percent. That's extraordinarily low. By comparison, the reoffense rate for offenders in regular criminal court is 40-50 percent.
For a criminal defense attorney, restorative justice and Teen Court provides a way to achieve a just outcome for both the offender and victim, while minimizing the consequences for the juvenile. It also provides a way to keep the juvenile's record clean and preserve educational and professional opportunities.
If your child has been arrested, speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Colorado Springs Teen Court may be the answer.