Skyline High School
Student Traffic Court
BACKGROUND & PURPOSE
Skyline High School’s Student Traffic Court exists through a unique and enduring relationship with the Sammamish District Court and the Issaquah District Court. The program began at Issaquah High School more than thirty-five years ago. Students, administrators and parents have valued this program for its benefits to the student “Defendants,” as well as those who serve as members of the Student Court. Skyline High School must continually strive to maintain the integrity of the program so that this important relationship with the District Courts may continue.
The intent of the Student Traffic Court is to allow students who have been cited for minor traffic infractions, such as speeding, to take responsibility for their actions, while keeping their relatively new driving records clean. Qualified Skyline High School students are allowed to appear before the Student Court (instead of the District Court) and receive a penalty of community service hours to be performed. If these hours are performed successfully, the infraction will be dismissed.
All students who serve on the Student Court as Judges, Jurors, and Clerks, benefit from the experience as well. They learn skills in listening and decision making while acquiring knowledge of how the legal system works. These students deal with real world issues of ambiguity and peer pressure, and learn the importance of recognizing foreseeable consequences of one’s actions.
The community benefits from the Student Courts as well. All community service must be performed in the local area. Parents, of course, value this program because students are required to take responsibility for their actions, while at the same time maintaining some degree of insurance affordability.
HOW IT WORKS
When an individual is cited for a traffic infraction, the citation is filed with the District Court. The student cited, becomes the “Defendant.” Once the Defendant receives a copy of the citation they are asked to follow the instructions printed on the back. The Defendant must indicate whether he or she wishes a hearing to either “contest” or “mitigate” (admit but explain) the infraction. (The Defendant always has the option of admitting the infraction and paying the fine, in which case, the Student Court would not be involved.)
If the Defendant should choose to mitigate the citation, he/she should also include a written request to indicate that he or she is a student at Skyline High School and would request that the case be referred to the Student Court. However, in the request for referral, the Defendant must understand that the Student Court will not be entitled to find the infraction “not committed.” Students may also request a transfer to Student Court by letter to the court and by phone.
Students may only take advantage of the Student Court opportunity once. A second offense will not be referred to the Student Court. However, if a student Defendant has prior traffic violations but has never been to the Student Court, he or she may have the new offense referred there.
PROCESSING NEW CASES
The District Court delivers all Student Court cases along with a copy of the citation, the police officer’s report, and a copy of the Defendant’s driving record to the Skyline High School Student Court Clerk. These documents are processed and a summons is delivered to each student Defendant approximately 2 weeks before the assigned student court date, during the school day, requiring the Defendant’s appearance before the Student Court at a particular day and time. [Note: Violations charged during the months of June, July and August are handled during the following school year unless the student will no longer be a student at Skyline High School.]
STUDENT COURT SESSIONS
Student Court sessions are held at Skyline High School in a classroom chosen each school year, generally directly after school once per month. The Student Court Judge presides from the bench, and the Court Clerk sits to the side. Jurors are seated in the jury box. Defendants and visitors are seated in the audience. All Defendants are sworn in as a group at the beginning of the court session. When a Defendant’s case is called, he or she rises and stands between the judge and the audience. The Student Court Advisor is always present in Court.
The Student Judge follows an established protocol and script, and Defendants are required to abide by the same kind of courtroom decorum that would be fitting in the District Court—i.e., no hats, gum chewing, eating, drinking or talking during session. It is the judge’s job to remind Defendants of this, if necessary.
The primary difference in procedure with Student Court is that the Judge and Jurors are allowed to ask questions of the Defendant. There are no attorneys or witnesses.
After hearing all cases, the defendants and any audience members are asked to wait outside the board room while the Student Judge and Jury consider what they have heard. Remember that the Student Court does not have the option of finding the offense not committed. The Student Judge presides over the jury’s deliberations in an attempt to reach consensus as to the penalty imposed. However, a majority vote is decisive, and the judge may break a tie.
During these proceedings, the Judge and Jury are engaged in serious decision making about their peers. Penalties are determined using guidelines provided by the District Courts, but the Student Court may exceed or decrease the penalty if they find it appropriate. All penalties are a certain number of community service hours. No fines are involved.
IMPOSITION OF PENALTY & FOLLOW UP
Upon reaching decisions, the Defendants are welcomed back into the board room for the announcement of their penalty. The Student Court Clerk provides the Defendant with a written penalty order and instructions on how to comply within the required time limits. Subsequent to the court proceedings, the Student Court Advisor is the contact for all defendant questions/issues. Students must provide written proof of performance to the Student Court Advisor who then reports compliance to the District Court. After all procedures and guidelines have been completed, the case is then formally dismissed by the District Court and will not appear as a violation on the Defendant’s driving record.
In the event a Defendant does not comply, this too is reported to the District Court which then finds the infraction “committed” and sends notice to the Defendant advising he or she has 30 days to pay the fine required by law. The offense will then appear as “committed” on the Defendant’s driving record.