Youth Courts Try Juvenile Offenders

The youth court in Colonie is one of more than 1,000 youth courts across the country that tries juvenile offenders (search). But no one in this court went to law school — in fact, the judge, lawyers and court clerk are just high school students.

"They have gone through training, an eight-week training course, and learned to take on those roles," said Patrice Lockart, a victim-services specialist.

Click on the video box to the right for a complete report by FOX News' Eric Liljegren.

This youth court tries real cases for first-time juvenile offenders who admit they've done wrong. The prosecution and defense present their facts to a jury, which determines a suitable penalty for the crime. Courts like the one in Colonie are supported by the American Bar Association.

"Their goal is the same — it's to recommend a sentence in the form of community service and other things that will make sure that this youth doesn't enter the system again," said Lockart.

On the docket one night last week was the case of Azhan Galani, a 14-year-old charged with bringing a pellet gun (search) to school. Azhan says he didn't feel right about having it with him in his ninth-grade class and turned himself in.

"I just, like, felt guilty and I just told the teacher," Galani said.

Galani's appointed "attorney" tried to show the defendant's softer side but the prosecution didn't want the jury to forget the serious nature of the incident.

"He brought the weapon to school knowing that if anything went wrong with the gun, he could hurt himself as well as other students and staff around him," said Dominique Digiuseppe, one youth court prosecutor.

Galani ended up with 32 hours of community service. If Galani is like the other 99 percent of offenders tried in the Colonie (search) youth court, he'll complete his sentence and keep his record clean.

The town of Colonie budgets about $100,000 a year for youth court — about the same as it costs to keep a juvenile behind bars. The city police chief says if it can keep one kid from becoming a repeat offender, the program pays for itself.

"It pays for itself in spades," said Colonie Police Chief Steven Hider. "To put children in the system is very expensive, to keep them out of the system is a small price to pay."