What is the Riverside Youth Court?

The Riverside Youth Court is a program created by the Riverside Youth Council in September 2004. It is an innovative approach to juvenile justice and acts as an early intervention for first time offenders of misdemeanor crimes. It is designed to give youth between the ages of 10 and 17, who have broken the law and admitted their guilt, a second chance. Those who are eligible for the program will have the case heard in a real courtroom with youth serving as prosecuting and defense attorneys, court clerks, bailiffs and jurors. An adult judge will preside, but the youth jury will determine the sentence.

The Riverside Youth Court is also designed to educate youth about the juvenile justice system. Through direct participation, youth court addresses the juvenile’s responsibility for his/her behavior and holds the juvenile accountable to his/her community and peers. Involvement in youth court, either as a respondent or as a volunteer, increases his/her respect for the judicial process.

How Does the Youth Court Program Work?

Cases dealing with misdemeanor crimes that have been committed within the city limits are referred directly to the Riverside Youth Court from the Riverside Police Department, Riverside County Probation Department and the Riverside Unified and Alvord Unified School Districts. Once a juvenile is referred to youth court, the juvenile and his/her parent will meet with youth court staff to review the program requirements and sign all required paperwork. To be eligible for youth court, the juvenile must first admit guilt and his/her parent must consent in writing to his/her child's participation in the program.

The case is then scheduled for an adult judge trial or a peer jury trial. If the case is tried with the adult judge model a youth defense attorney will represent the juvenile. The prosecutor will also be a youth attorney; adult attorneys are available to mentor the youth attorneys prior to the trial. In this model, each youth attorney makes an opening statement, the juvenile testifies and is cross-examined, both attorneys recommend a disposition, and the jury considers the facts of the case. The jury deliberates until it reaches a consensus in determining a fair disposition for the juvenile respondent. The peer jury model does not use youth attorneys. Instead, the members of the jury are presented with the facts of the case in advance and prepare relevant questions. Each juror may ask questions directly to the juvenile respondent. The deliberation process is the same as it is in the adult judge model.

What Kind of Dispositions does Youth Court Impose?

The primary function of the Riverside Youth Court is to determine a fair and restorative sentence for the juvenile respondent. Dispositions will include mandatory future jury duty, and one or more of the following: community service, letters of apology, essays, educational workshops, counseling, restitution, drug testing, jail tour, curfew restrictions, behavior contract, and other creative dispositions.

What Happens when the Juvenile Offender Completes his/her Disposition?

When the disposition is completed, the respondent’s case will be closed. No criminal charges will be filed in the traditional juvenile justice system and the juvenile will have no record.

How Often Does the Riverside Youth Court Hold Sessions?

The Riverside Youth Court convenes twice a month.

What Other Benefits will Youth Court Volunteers Receive?

All youth court volunteers will receive training in the juvenile justice system, the concept of restorative justice, and the deliberation process. Each volunteer will receive 6 hours of community service for attending the training and an additional 3 hours of community service each time he/she participates in a court session.

What Local Agencies are involved with the Riverside Youth Court?

The Riverside Youth Court partnership includes the Riverside Youth Council, Office of the Mayor, Riverside Police Department, (the administrating agency), Riverside County Juvenile Court, Riverside County Probation Department, Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, Riverside County Public Defender’s Office, Riverside Unified School District, Alvord Unified School District, Riverside County Bar Association, and the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce.

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