Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Seattle High School Students Begin a New Year of Youth Traffic Court

December 2019 Bar Bulletin

By Laura Bet

In October, Seattle Municipal Court Judge Jennifer Cruz and Judge Adam Eisenberg swore in 18 local high school students to serve on the 2019–20 Seattle Youth Traffic Court. A partnership among Seattle Municipal Court, Seattle University School of Law, Garfield High School and Seattle Police Department, Seattle Youth Traffic Court1 provides eligible teen drivers charged with a traffic violation the opportunity to keep a clean driving record, while at the same time giving students experience working in the legal system.

“We are so thankful for the student volunteers and our partners who make Youth Traffic Court possible,” said Judge Eisenberg. “This program is a win-win-win for law students who get firsthand experience managing a court process, for high school students who get a window into the legal system, and for teen drivers who get a chance to keep their driving record clear.”

“It was my pleasure to swear in this year’s Youth Traffic Court cohort,” said Magistrate Jennifer Cruz. “These students are leaders in their community and I am proud to support this program as we begin its eighth year at Seattle Municipal Court.”

“Youth courts operate on restorative justice principles,” said Margaret Fisher, distinguished practitioner in residence and director of Youth Court at Seattle University School of Law. “The high school volunteers, along with defendants, get to think through who has been harmed and how to help defendants make up for that harm.”

Participants appear before their peers who act as judges, jurors, defense attorneys and prosecutors. Peer juries determine appropriate sentences based on the nature of the violation, any mitigating factors that the teen driver may provide to the jury, and the impact of the violation to the community.

Teen drivers may be required to interview a police officer about their infractions and write an essay, drive with a competent adult in circumstances where the defendant has difficulty, complete community service hours, write an essay on the dangers resulting from their violation, or write a letter of apology to those impacted by the violation.

Defendants are also required to return to serve on juries in future cases. Both volunteers and participants in Youth Traffic Court learn firsthand how our local judicial system works and their role in the system.

The Seattle Youth Traffic Court is the first youth court to be offered in Seattle, and the first youth traffic court in the country in which law students manage the court process and mentor and train the high school student volunteers. For the first time this year, students from Rainier Beach High School, Summit Sierra, and Franklin High School are participating in hearings alongside students from Garfield High School.

The new student volunteers will serve monthly for the rest of the school year, concluding their terms in June. Many of the volunteers began as freshmen and continue through their senior year. Seattle youth under the age of 18 without prior traffic violations may be offered the opportunity to have their traffic case heard in Youth Traffic Court.

Established in 2012, Seattle Youth Traffic Court is one of more than 1,600 youth courts nationally. National studies indicate that teens who are sentenced in youth courts are less likely to make the same mistake in the future, making the roads safer for all drivers, while at the same time allowing youths to keep their driving records clear.2

Seattle Youth Traffic Court is one aspect of Seattle Municipal Court’s work to holistically address the community’s needs and provide career development opportunities for Seattle students. Students who participate in Youth Traffic Court leave the program with greater knowledge of the legal system and personal connections with law students, judges and court staff.

Seattle Municipal Court also offers volunteer internship opportunities for students and others who are interested in gaining experience in case management and/or working in the Community Resource Center.3 

Laura Bet is the communications and projects advisor for Seattle Municipal Court, which provides a forum to resolve alleged violations of the law in a respectful, independent and impartial manner. The court processes more cases than any other municipal court in Washington with seven elected judges and five appointed magistrates. It adjudicates misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor crimes, infractions and civil violations as authorized under the Seattle Municipal Code and certain Revised Code of Washington statutes. For more information visit: www.seattle.gov/courts.

1 https://www.seattle.gov/courts/programs-and-services/specialized-courts/seattle-youth-traffic-court

2 https://www.urban.org/research/publication/impact-teen-court-young-offenders

3 https://www.seattle.gov/courts/programs-and-services/probation-services/probation-volunteer-opportunities

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