Borderland teens practice law in program offered by El Paso municipal court

El Paso News
The criminal justice system is sometimes seen as a negative experience especially for youth. That’s why the city’s municipal court lets teens in the borderland have a chance to learn what it’s really about.
 
“Our lawyers are teenagers and our jurors are teenagers. So if the defendant gets a ticket, they can have their ticket heard by truly a jury of their peers,” Judge Michelle Morales with the city of El Paso Municipal Court told KTSM.
 
Teens from all around the city are stepping up to learn now rather than later how the court process works, “They learn that in order to be good lawyers and to be good public speakers, they need to be positive, leaders, and strong,” Morales shared.
 
Teen Court is a real justice program run by teens for teens. It gives anyone under 17 with a ticket the opportunity to be heard by their peers who act as legal counsel to get the ticket dismissed and paid off with community service hours.
 
“You actually get to learn how to be part of every single part of the court. So you’re not only practicing to be either a defense attorney or prosecutor, you practice everything,” Samantha De La Rosa, Senior at Coronado High School told KTSM.
 
Judge Morales with the city’s municipal court said the program helps students who want to get into law but also ends up being a lesson of integrity, “They need to understand and do understand that they have the future of someone else in their hands. Especially our defense lawyers. It’s up to them to present their client in the best light.”
 
There are currently about 60 kids in the program, all from different high schools. The program aims to create a positive experience with the criminal justice system.
 
“We want them to take that experience on their lives and teach it to other people so there’s not this suspicion about, ‘It can never be fair for me,” Morales shared.
 
Teen Court at the municipal level has been around for about one year. It’s partially funded by the City, and the rest through fundraisers like gofundme. 
 
Any teen interested can apply this summer for the upcoming program that’s expected to start training in August.
 
You can learn more about the program and/or apply here.

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