From Post staff reports
Tobacco use among minors is cited as the major offense that is heard by Wilson County’s Teen Court, according to the program’s director.
Wilson County Teen Court Director Linda Schenk told members of the Lebanon Morning Rotary yesterday that illegal use of tobacco products by teens accounted for more than one-third of the cases that were heard last year by juries made up of teens who participate in the unique justice program and render verdicts and punishment against their peers.
Schenk said the program, now 6-1/2 years old, heard some 121 cases last year. She said 36 percent of the cases heard by the volunteer jurors involved juveniles who were using tobacco products.
“Lots of these kids are addicted,” Schenk said, speaking about their tobacco use and the severe problem it is.
She also said there are a number of shoplifting cases heard each year. Early in the program many of the shoplifting cases she said involved teens from Lebanon stealing from Walmart, but now she noted that most of the shoplifting cases involve teens from the West Wilson area and other nearby communities being accused of shoplifting at the Providence MarketPlace in Mt. Juliet.
The program, which she credited General Sessions Judge Barry Tatum with helping to initiate in Wilson County, is unique in a number of ways.
It makes it possible for teens, as she explained, to appear in front a jury of their peers for offenses including shoplifting, vandalism, the use of tobacco or alcohol products, and other offenses considered to be not major violations.
Wilson County Teen Court is held every Tuesday night. She said generally juries, made up of teens from grades eight through seniors in high school, hear about three cases each night.
She explained the juries asked questions of those appearing with violations and determine their guilt or innocence or if there are certain extenuating circumstances that might influence the punishment to be assigned.
Teen Court juries often assign punishment in the cases heard with a number of hours of community or public service. Schenk said last year more than 1,800 hours of public service were issued to those appearing before the teen juries. Other means of punishment to address violations or offenses may include anger management classes, programs to discourage the use of tobacco and underage use of alcohol and even some more creative ideas.
The juries are not limited on what they may prescribe for punishment she said. She recalled that in one case a respondent appearing before the court was assigned to visit a funeral home for his offense involving the illegal use of a vehicle.
She pointed out that there are a number of advantages to the Teen Court for the parents as well as those appearing before the court. The court hears for the most part only first time offender cases. She said the court cost for Teen Court is $30, while to appear in a County Juvenile Court the cost is $143. Once a teen turns 18, charges are expunged from all records.
She said students serving on the juries volunteer their time for the year and are “all good kids.” They take an oath of confidentiality and strictly abide by that oath, she added.
For those who appear before the teen juries she said many come from broken homes, many have poor grades and some have what she described as “attitude” problems.