Explore Legal Career Options at Teen Court
Wylie Teen Court has been held 10 times this year. The most recent court was held on May 8. Wylie Teen Court is held at the Wylie Municipal Complex Building located at 300 Country Club Road.
Katonya Johnson is the Wylie Juvenile Case Manager and Teen Court Coordinator. This year there were 16 students from Wylie ISD and surrounding areas involved in teen court. Johnson explained why teen court began, “Wylie teen court began almost three years ago. Wylie is constantly growing and we wanted to bring a positive program to our community.” She explains how the program has changed since its inception, “Our teen court program has become not only a popular program for students that want to possibly pursue law, but also among the defendants themselves. Each year the amount of volunteer participants grows as we continue to advertise…”
Three Wylie High School students explain their participation in Wylie Teen Court: Christine Quinto is 18 years old and a senior. Last year she served as a juror, this summer she went through the required training to become an attorney. This year, she was a prosecutor during court. During the May 8 teen court, Quinto was a prosecutor in a case where the defendant was charged with driving without a driver’s license or insurance. She said she has learned a lot about how court works as well as legal terminology. Her confidence has increased and she has become a better extemporaneous speaker. She plans to major in accounting when she goes to college with a goal of becoming a CPA tax attorney.
Ana-Clara Pereira is 16 years old and a junior. Thus far she has been an attorney and a witness during teen court. During the May 8 teen court, she was a defense attorney in the same case in which Quinto was the prosecutor. She said she has learned more about the legal system and legal career field through her experience with teen court. She plans to become an immigration lawyer.
Gloria Ekezie is 18 years old and a senior. She has been both a prosecutor and defense lawyer this year. During the May 8 teen court, she was the defense attorney in a case concerning breaking curfew. Through her experience with teen court, she has learned of laws she didn’t know existed. She has also learned to expect the unexpected during trials. She plans to follow a criminal law career path.
Johnson explains how teens are selected to have their cases tried at teen court, “Once a teen receives a Class C misdemeanor citation with Wylie, I set the teen for court and send a summons. With the summons, I also send a letter letting them know that they are possibly eligible for teen court. The letter includes a little about what the teen court program is, the range of community service hours for their offense, and the cost of the program. Teen court is not a requirement but is an option that we provide. Once the teen comes to their juvenile hearing, they speak to the prosecutor, myself and the judge and make the decision to take teen court as an option. Once agreed upon, they make their plea before the judge of either guilty or no contest to participate in teen court.” Once teen court reaches a verdict, this decision is legally binding. Johnson said, “After the judge accepts the verdict reached by the jury, I send the order that was set by the judge in teen court…(the defendant) is required to do the steps necessary in the order to keep the offense from appearing on their record.”
Three cases were tried on May 8. Two cases were curfew incidents and one was driving without a driver’s license or insurance. (Additional trials this year included speeding, speeding in school zones, possession of drug paraphernalia and theft.)
The first case involved a 15-year-old female who had taken a walk to calm down after a stressful day at school and an argument with her parents. Wylie police officers spotted her in front of Target in Wylie when they responded to an activated security alarm at Kohl’s. The officer reported that the defendant became combatant and the defendant was detained. The defendant said she didn’t realize what time it was when she went for a walk, she was just trying to escape her home situation. The defendant’s father was sworn in as a witness. He said the defendant was diagnosed with a behavior disorder when she was a young child.
One of the coping skills she was given by a counselor was to remove herself from the situation when she felt overwhelmed. When he arrived on scene, four officers were surrounding his daughter. After explaining her medical condition, and finding that she had nothing to do with the Kohl’s security alarm, the defendant was released to the custody of the father. The teen prosecutor asked the jury to sentence the defendant with 24 hours community service, the teen defense attorney asked for 12 hours. The jury, compiled of all teens, returned a sentence of 12 hours of community service.
The second case involved a 15-year-old in the tenth grade who was driving without a driver’s license or insurance. He also had additional teens in the vehicle, was speeding on Hwy. 78 and it was after curfew. The officer said he only wrote two of the possible five citations that night. The defense attorney attempted to paint a portrait of a busy student who also helped care for his siblings. She explained he was just being a helpful friend by bringing a car full of teens to their homes. When the prosecutor asked why he was out so late, the defendant said, “I just wanted to hang out with my people.” The prosecutor mentioned he could have called Uber, the defendant said he didn’t have the money to do that.
During closing remarks, the prosecutor asked the jury to return a sentence of 64 hours of community service for each offense. The defense attorney asked for 82 hours total plus attending a driver’s safety course. The jury returned a sentence of 88 hours of community service, two jury terms, a 300-word essay on the importance of learning how to operate a vehicle safely and a taking a driver’s safety course.
Defendants are all required to complete at least one jury term.
If teens are interested in participating in Wylie Teen Court, they can find more information at https://www.wylietexas.gov/departments/municipal_court/teen_court.php. They can also contact Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-429-8085.
Pictured Above: (Front row, from left) Officer Mark Atkison, Jacob Hunt, Christine Quinto, Katonya Johnson (JCM), Jose Oviedo, Ana Clara Pereira and Attorney Ashley McSwain.
(Back row, from left) Alex Lin, Justin Meyer, Kennedy Plains and Gloria Ekezie.