Angelina County teen court offers second chances

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - In this courtroom everybody wins.

"It's pretty much showing teenagers what court is really all about," said teen court student Caleb Fortenberry.

From the juveniles on trial to the teens defending them, teen court turns into a second chance for some and a learning experience for others.

"It's just like regular court case, except the defendants already proven guilty we just argue what their punishment will be," said Fortenberry.

"Instead of going through the typical juvenile system they go ahead and admit their case and the case is heard by a jury of their peers," said County judge Wes Suiter.

For more than 20 years, Angelina County's teen court shows students each side of the law.

"I just wish kids would come out and work it. Serving the community in the community you can't beat it," said teen court coordinator, Benita Bennett.

Anyone can participate, but teen court is looking to involve more minority students.

"I just think they are scared of the law and you talk about the court system they don't actually understand," said Bennett.

Juvenile crimes, from robberies to school bus fights are heard in this courtroom. Other teens take on the roles of prosecutors and defense attorneys, trying a case just like the professionals.

"We get together pretty much figure out the strategy, opening statements what questions we'll do," said Fortenberry.

"They get to see both sides, they're the defendant and they can come back and serve as a juror and I think they benefit from it," said Bennett.

Not all volunteers are looking to be future lawyers.

"They have an interest in what's going on in the community, they have an interest in seeing their friends stay out of trouble," said Suiter.

It's not about guilt or innocence, but creating opportunities for everyone.

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