The term a “jury of your peers” takes on a whole new meaning in a unique program available to Washington teens. In certain counties in the state, high school students who commit traffic infractions can apply to have their case heard in a Student Traffic Court instead of the local municipal court. This diversion program was created by the state legislature and has been around since about 2002. High school students serve as judges, jurors, bailiffs, attorneys, and prosecutors in the proceedings, according to King 5. They hear each student's case and come up with an appropriate sentence. The sentence usually involves having the student who committed the traffic infraction do things like community service. Once the sentence imposed is completed, then the citation is dismissed. This allows the student to avoid paying a fine and having a citation on his or her record.
Jurisdiction of Youth Court
The students are only permitted to hear cases about traffic infractions; they can't hear more serious cases concerning criminal matters such as DUI, reckless driving, or first-degree negligent driving. According to The Seattle Times, what cases a student court can hear depends on the court itself. For example, the Bothell Youth Traffic Court will hear “excessive speeding and minor accident cases as long as they are civil infractions,” while the Issaquah Student Traffic Court “doesn't allow negligent driving or accidents, even those that are noncriminal, but they do accept excessive-speeding cases.” The Seattle Youth Traffic Court doesn't consider excessive speeding cases or accidents with injuries. According to that program's co-founder, Seattle Municipal Court Judge Karen Donohue, “We don't want serious cases . . . [w]e consider cases that offer teachable moments.”
In addition to being able to impose community service, some student courts have leeway to impose unique sentences that factor in the nature of the offense. A few examples of these are listed below:
- A student who was cited for speeding through a school zone had to spend a day as a crossing guard
- A student who passed a school bus when it had its flashing red lights on and its stop sign extended had to “interview a bus driver about his experiences with unsafe drivers.”
- A student who was speeding had to “find two newspaper stories about how speeding caused a major accident and write a 150-word reflection about each story.”
A Learning Experience
A recent graduate, Sean Davidson served as a judge in the Issaquah Student Traffic Court for a year. He believes that "student traffic court is a valuable experience, for both the students serving as judge and jury who learn about the law through real-life cases and for the defendants who appear before them." He told The Seattle Times, "We're dealing with 16-to-18-year-olds. They're not fully formed adults yet. They're performing community service. They're punished, but in a way, that's good for the community."
Seattle Area Traffic Attorney
The Youth Courts are a unique way for young drivers to learn from their mistakes. Unfortunately, diversion programs like this are not available to everyone. Even though traffic infractions are relatively minor offenses, they can still impact a person's life and insurance rates. If you or someone you know has been cited for a traffic violation in the Seattle area, contact attorney Steve Karimi today for a free consultation. He offers reasonable rates to assist with traffic cases and will fight to keep your driving record clean.