Community Service ProgramThis sentencing alternative to jail provides judges with the option to order non-violent offenders to perform community volunteer work as part of their sentence. Community service work is most often performed at a local government office, church or recognized non-profit organization (recognized by the IRS as a 501c3 agency).
Justice 101 ProgramChildren in elementary schools in Royal Oak and Berkley are given the opportunity to learn about the court system and to visit the court for a tour and observe open court. On Tuesdays throughout the school year, Judge Meinecke visits elementary school classes to speak with the children about the different levels and functions of the judiciary, to explain legal terminology, to alert them to the dangers of giving in to peer pressure, and to prepare them for their visit to the courthouse the next day. On Wednesday mornings the children are given a tour of the courthouse including the judge's chambers. They observe open court with some of the children getting to sit in the jury box. At the conclusion of the court session the judge discusses with them what they observed and why it is important to them. The children they walk over to the Royal Oak police department for a tour and discussion.
Teen CourtJudge Wittenberg’s Teen Court Program is a recognized specialty court program run in conjunction with the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office. Teen Court is essentially a juvenile diversion program for first time offenders involved in misdemeanor offenses. The goal is to keep juvenile defendants out of the traditional court system. Some of the offenses that might be resolved at a teen court hearing are alcohol/drug offenses, disorderly conduct, curfew violations, vandalism, retail fraud, and cases involving sending explicit photos by text or social media. The defendants and cases are real. These are not mock proceedings. The Teen Court volunteers are from local middle and high schools.
During a Teen Court session, a juvenile defendant appears before a jury of their peers and is represented by a “student defense attorney” and a “student prosecutor.” Adult mentors assist the students, while Judge Wittenberg serves as the judge. The session is conducted like a regular court proceeding, where the defendant is questioned by the student attorneys. The jury is also given an opportunity to ask questions. After the testimony and closing arguments, the Teen Court jury deliberates and comes up with a sentencing recommendation. The judge usually follows this recommendation, but has the authority to modify the sentence.
The program is designed around the idea that a jury of one’s own peers is more influential in dealing with behavioral problems than any other method. The goal is for all participants to come away with a positive feeling about the program. The student attorneys have learned about the court system and have had a chance to play a real and active role. The defendant gets the benefit of keeping their case out of the juvenile court system where sentences are determined by adults, who may not understand things the way kids do. A juvenile who is a first time offender can also have their record wiped clean.
Teen Court can reduce the crime rate of teenagers involved in the program, as both students and defendants together learn to assume responsibility, and are held accountable for their actions through early intervention. Statistics have shown that communities using Teen Court as part of their youth crime prevention program consistently report that 90% or more of the defendants who complete their sentences are never re-arrested.