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By Janelle Williams
While the defendant buried his head in his hands, defense attorney, Diante Elcock, fought valiantly to defend him in a recent court case.
Elcock is only 17 years old.
“I want to help to give defendants a second chance in society,” he said. “I want to give them a second chance at life.”
For the past three years, the Elizabethtown High School senior has been a participant of Hardin County Teen Court, a program that holds juvenile offenders accountable through trial by their peers. These peers represent several area high schools.
This year, 101 high school students were educated in a six-week training course. Almost 90 of these participants will be assigned to cases. Many will serve as jury members, who will determine the offenders’ sentence after they have pled guilty or been found guilty in a juvenile court.
“People say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard about Teen Court. It’s like a mock trial team, right?’” said Judge Kimberly Shumate, the program’s coordinator. “This is not education, this changes lives.
Since the program’s birth in Hardin County 13 years ago, Teen Court has helped reform the lives of countless youth. Teen court offenses range from truancy, shoplifting and harassment.
By bringing teens before a jury of their peers, this program seeks to deter these students from future unlawful behavior while keeping the juvenile’s record clear.
Teen Court has not only altered the lives of the teen offenders, but also the lives of the youth who volunteer with the program.
“It has changed my life and character,” said Emileigh McKee, a sophomore at Elizabethtown High School. “A question I often hear in the courtroom is, ‘Do you realize how your actions have affected others?’” According to McKee, this question resonates in her daily life. “I’m always asking myself now how my actions will affect others.”
In addition to bringing an awareness of the consequences of poor decisions to light, McKee said Teen Court has given her an appreciation for her family and life. “You see so many abused kids and careless parents. I learned so much about life outside of the courtroom.”
Teen Court President, Jonathan Sullivan, echoed these words.
“At Teen Court I learned that I have a house and a family who actually wants to keep me. I learned that there’s more to life than self.” he said. “I learned that it’s better to give to the community than to receive.”
Janelle Williams is a junior who is homeschooled.