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And one bad decision shouldn’t define someone for the rest of their lives.” Trained student youth court members perform the roles of prosecutor or community advocate, defense attorney or defense advocate, judge, clerk, jury foreperson and victim advocate. Charland and an attorney mentor oversee the proceedings. According to Charland, BYC handled 31 cases and heard a total of 40 charges in 2017, up from 21 cases and 34 charges the previous year. While charges varied, the most common was unlawful possession of marijuana, which represented 27.5 percent of offenses heard, followed by petit larceny (15 percent) and criminal trespass in the third degree (15 percent). Traffic cases dropped considerably, comprising 32 percent of offenses in 2016 and only 5 percent in 2017. Only one case was returned to criminal court due to non-compliance. Three cases were referred directly to BYC from the Bethlehem Police Department through a Direct Referral Diversion program that allows juveniles under the age of 15 to be referred directly to youth court without an actual arrest or the filing of any charges. “This diversion process has been a wonderful resource and has been well supported by victims, families of offenders and the police department,” Charland said in her report. At the request of the town judges, Charland also said that BYC is looking into implementing a traffic referral pilot program that “would address the issue of distracted driving and other offenses that could lead to crashes involving young drivers.” “Alternatives like this are beneficial to the all parties involved, the defendant, their parents, the courts and the victims, as we typically reach rapid conclusions and the cases don’t languish in the court systems,” said Bethlehem Police Commander Adam Hornick. “With the ‘raise the age’ [legislation that would raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York state] changes that are coming to the law, we see a potential growth in the use of the diversion program.” In 2017, BYC oversaw 1,632 hours of community service—682 of which were the result of sentencing, 950 of which were performed by volunteers and mentors. Project sites included the Bethlehem Middle School garden, the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail, the Capital City Rescue Mission, Bethlehem Senior Services and St. Thomas School.

For the original version including any supplementary images or video, visit https://www.spotlightnews.com/towns/bethlehem/2018/03/28/youth-court-director-gives-annual-update-on-22-year-old-youth-criminal-justice-diversion-program/

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