NEW BRAUNFELS -- Teenagers in New Braunfels have benefited from the city's teen court program for two decades.
It's a diversionary approach to the law. Kids who've committed Class-C Misdemeanors can plead guilty in a traditional courtroom and enter into Teen Court. A jury of their peers, former teen court defendants, decides their fate, and the defendant's crime is wiped from his or her record.
Sharon, who doesn't want us to use her last name, said when her son got into some trouble last year, teen court helped set him straight.
"Going through his case was kind of scary for him not knowing what was going to happen," she said. "He’s learned from what he did and what kind of trouble he got into, and then experiencing all the other kids he sat on the jury for. He learned a really good lesson as for thinking twice before you do something."
The person in charge of coordinating teen court, Norma Herrera, said Sharon's son's experience is what the program is designed for.
"It’s a preventive approach. It’s an eye-opening experience for all our juveniles who participate in it whether they’re a defendant or volunteer," Herrera said.
Herrera was part of a local collective that created a curriculum for New Braunfels' Teen Court Academy. The eight-week program graduated 12 teen attorneys who now try and defend cases.
"We look at leadership skills, experience, academics and other volunteer work," she said.
Academy graduate Rachel Emmerson said teen court helped her decide she wants to become a court reporter.
"When Ms. Norma came and spoke to our class, she was very energetic and she’s very passionate about her job. It made me want to experience what she had experienced,” Emmerson said.
So, Emmerson gave the program a shot.
"I showed up and she put me on prosecution for my very first time, and that was nerve-racking, but I loved it so I kept coming back," she said.
Raquel Vasquez wants to be a lawyer, too. She favors prosecuting teen court cases but wants to become a family law defense attorney.
"Just because these families go through so much and I’d rather help them than help someone who’s wrong," Vasquez said.
On the other hand, you have teen attorney Mercedes Castro. She prefers defending cases. When she graduates college, though, she's giving up law to enter the medical field. Still, she said teen court has taught her lessons that will stick with her forever.
"It teaches you so much about who you are and you can learn a lot about who you are and what you want to be and what you like," Castro said.
Sharon's son learned so much from going through the program as a defendant, he plans on coming back to sit in as a volunteer juror. Who knows? He might even end up trying a case of his own one day.