By Dominic Garcia

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (CBS4)– In Centennial, teenagers are getting firsthand experience when it comes to the legal system. The city’s Teen Court program is growing and is run entirely by young people, including a jury of peers.

“The whole point of this program isn’t just to punish someone. It’s to find a punishment that will help them grow and learn from their mistakes. We want to take into consideration their personality and who they are,” said Delwin Mabin, one of the judges.

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City leaders say the court has proven to be tremendously successful in other jurisdictions resulting in fewer repeat offenses.

CBS4’s Dominic Garcia sat in on a case of a 16-year-old who was cited for violating curfew. A police officer caught him being pulled down a snowy street by a car at 2 a.m.

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The judges took turns asking the defendant questions, not only to learn more about the case, but get to personally know the defendant.

“You tend to pick up on whether they’re more nervous, whether or not their parents are stricter, if they care less or don’t take it as seriously. The more cases you do the more you pick up on stuff like that,” said judge Maddie Mercier.

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The court hears cases for curfew, firework, and tobacco violations. A Teen Court coordinator mails out an eligibility letter to the potential Teen Court candidate and parent/guardian if it’s the teens first offense. That juvenile offender must choose Teen Court, take full responsibility for their involvement in the incident and have their parent/guardian call the Teen Court coordinator to set a time to go over paperwork.

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The teens not only question the juvenile, but also their parents. They then go and deliberate to figure out a punishment that fits the crime. In this case, the defendant was ordered to write an essay about the incident, but was also ordered to come back and serve as a judge for a future case.

“The intention of this is to kind of empower you and give you a chance to be on the other side,” a judge told the defendant.

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“In the long run we’re there for the benefit of them. We are not here to judge them, we’re not there to give them a strict punishment. We’re there to help them,” said Maben.

Anyone interested in applying to become a Teen Court judge can visit: http://www.centennialco.gov/Government/youth-commission.aspx

Dominic Garcia anchors CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and reports for CBS4 News at 10 p.m. Connect with the Denver native on Twitter @cbs4dom & on Facebook.

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