Last month he slipped down to the convenience store after school and after wandering around inside for a while, walked out with a pack of cigarettes under his jacket. The watchful clerk noticed the act and called the police.
Fast forward six weeks and now he finds himself in a courtroom run by kids his own age, but this is the real thing -- not a scene from the school play. The students act as the attorneys and jury in the case and the defendant has committed an actual offense. The only role that isn't handled by the students is the judge. A local attorney has been selected to act as judge and has the final say after the jury hands down its decision.
Everything that happens in the courtroom follows the letter of the law and the sentence that is handed down is legally binding.
Putnam County Circuit Court Judge Matt Headley, who supports the idea of a "teen court," told the BannerGraphic that the judges began looking into the program last year. Several surrounding counties, including Montgomery and Vigo, have similar teen court systems. Putnam County's started this year.
"It's gone very, very well," Headley said. "The kids really seem to get into it."
Teen court is conducted a couple times a month, depending on the case load and defendants and their families must agree to be part of the program. Headley said the idea is to get kids involved in the justice system, not only for their education, but as a means of discouraging them to commit crimes.
Teen court is one of several programs through the courts that Headley will touch on tonight when he speaks at Mental Health America Putnam County's annual dinner and awards night. The event kicks off at 6:30 p.m. and will take place at the Putnam County Museum, located on North Jackson Street in Greencastle.
Eileen Johnson, executive director of the local mental health chapter, said the public is welcome to attend and in addition to listening to Judge Healey talk about various programs of the court, witness the presentation of the Educator of the Year Award and Person of the Year Award, both given by the association.
The program ends with a demonstration of the Junior Mental Health America "Puppet Power Presentation," to be performed by Wesley McKinney and Heath Schlatter, both students at South Putnam High School.