HARKER HEIGHTS — The majority of criminal offenses most recently committed by teenagers in Heights are traffic violations, according to Harker Heights Municipal Court records.
To some, these offenses may seem minor but they could lead to the loss of lives, presiding Judge Antonio Kosta Jr. said. That’s why Heights and other cities offer teen court programs to help juvenile offenders work out their cases without convictions going on their records.
Kosta gets about a dozen juveniles a month in the Heights teen court program.
“I’d say 90 percent of the offenses charged in court are traffic related in some form or the other,” he said, offering this advice to young drivers: “Pay more attention when you’re driving, don’t text and drive or use the cellphone when you drive, and pay attention to what you are doing.”
A few juveniles end up in teen court for nontraffic-related crimes, such as theft, shoplifting, alcohol and tobacco offenses and assault charges.
Kosta said not all teens who enter the courtroom qualify for the program. Before teen court can be requested or recommended, juveniles must make their first appearance in open court and enter guilty pleas.
They then are required to attend three court sessions, conduct community service and serve as a teen juror for the court.
“The punishment is always in some form of community service,” Kosta said. “It could be three hours for some offenses all the way up to seven hours for serious offenses that they have to complete prior to successfully completing the program.”
Sgt. Roosevelt Wilson Jr. of the Harker Heights Police Department said most people don’t know that juvenile offenders must go to teen court, while adults have options of either paying their citations or going to trial.
“Driving is a responsibility, and it’s every driver’s responsibility to know what the traffic laws are and to obey them at all times.”
Kosta has worked with the teen court program for 16 years and believes it’s very beneficial for the community.
“It’s always rewarding to have a parent come up — and this occasionally happens — five years later and tell me how much that program has helped that child,” he said.