Student Traffic Court

Student Traffic Court
Posted on 11/08/2019

Last week, a classroom at Tahoma High School transformed into a court -- the Tahoma Student Traffic Court, to be precise. Although the court is not yet in session, it’s now an official option for Tahoma High School students who receive traffic infractions and are referred by the Maple Valley Municipal Court. 

“It’s an opportunity for students to take responsibility for their own mistakes,” said Officer Carl Bonnell, the Student Resource Officer at THS. Maple Valley Police Chief D.J. Nesel, THS Principal Terry Duty and Supervisor of Operations Sean P. Kelly approached Bonnell and asked whether a student traffic court could be created.

There are a number of requirements regulating who can be referred to the student traffic court. They state that the infraction committed cannot be one that involved a collision, negligent driving or a “no insurance” violation. In addition, the person being referred to the youth court must:

  • Attend Tahoma High School.
  • Be 16 or 17 years of age.
  • Agree that the cited infraction was committed.
  • Choose to attend the student court of their own will. (Otherwise, students cited may opt to follow the usual path through the municipal court system).
  • Agree to complete whatever conditions the student court determines; the student has 180 days to complete the conditions.

In most cases, the conditions will include community service hours and/or education; however, the student court may also impose consequences such as requiring an apology letter, an essay or participation in future youth court proceedings. In return for complying with the conditions imposed, the infraction does not go on the student’s record, Bonnell said.

Student traffic courts are allowed by law under the Revised Code of Washington 3.72, said Maple Valley Judge Stephen Rochon, who signed the papers creating the court last week.

Rochon talked with students who have volunteered to serve on the court, explaining the law that governs the youth court and giving them advice. “You have to be neutral, detached, objective,” he said. 

Even before the court was officially created, the students were hard at work, getting organized, creating forms and determining how their process will work. They plan to use a panel of five court members to conduct hearings, which will allow any member of the panel to recuse themselves if they happen to know the student whose case the court is considering that day. 

Maple Valley Prosecutor Tricia (Grove) Johnson also spoke with the students last week, and advised them to create a sanctions chart in order to create consistency in conditions imposed.

“That way, when people walk out of here, they feel they’ve been treated fairly,” Johnson said, noting that documenting sanctions imposed can also help avoid bias.

“You become a very fair court; the students will trust you, and more people will opt in,” she said. “You have been given an incredible responsibility.”

Teacher Robin Hall will be the “adult supervisor” of the student court, and oversees the students. The group members have been researching other student court’s practices and systems while working to create their own, Hall said.

“We have this great group of kids that are really excited,” she added.

Sophomore Mathieu Chabaud said he decided to join the student court after seeing a video announcement about the opportunity -- and, he added that it’s not too late to get involved. He wants other students to know that if they elect to have their infraction heard in the youth court that they’ll likely receive community service time and avoid having their car insurance rates increase. 

“I hope it will allow them to see the benefit of the judicial system, and that they might learn to avoid the situation that brought them before us.”

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