By Alyssa Schnugg
Starting in the fall, teenagers who have a tendency to cut school could face a jury of their peers – literally.
Lafayette County Court Judge Tiffany Kilpatrick is starting a Teen Court for the 2023/2024 school year where students facing truancy allegations will appear at the Lafayette County Circuit Court for a hearing where their fate will be decided by fellow students.
Teens from 13 to 17 years old will become the prosecutor, the public defender, a bailiff and the jury. Kilpatrick will oversee the hearing as judge, as mandated by state law.
The jury will be given several dispositions or “sentences” that they can give to the student if they are found guilty of truancy.
“That could be having to write a letter of apology, attend counseling, do a research paper or community service hours,” Kilpatrick said.
State statute only allows Teen Courts to hear truancy cases but Kilpatrick said she hopes that might change in the near future.
Kilpatrick is looking for students who want to take part in Teen Court and is asking parents and students to contact her with recommendations as well.
Before a case is heard in Teen Court, the student and their parents will have to approve them going before the Teen Court jury.
“This is going to be a wonderful opportunity for the students to really understand each other,” Kilpatrick said. “I think it’s going to help make these kids grow closer and they’re going learn the reasons behind why some kids are truant. And they’re going to learn and understand how the court system works before becoming an adult.”
Kilpatrick is the county’s first County Judge. She won the election in November and started her new role on Jan. 1.
As County Judge, she rules over abuse and neglect cases and delinquency cases. County Court will also take on civil cases up to $200,000 and felony criminal cases if a Circuit Court Judge assigns a case to the County Court.
Prior to being elected County Court Judge, Kilpatrick served as the Assistant District Attorney over abuse and sexual assault cases and served as the public defender at the felony level, in Youth Court as well as the city prosecutor for the city of Abbeville.
To make a recommendation for a student to participate in Teen Court, send an email to Marcia Houston, County Court Administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org.