Kennedy Jennings has stood in courtrooms and helped determine the sentences of first-time teen offenders. She’s 15.
She hasn’t actually sentenced anyone to jail, but as a Miami-Dade Teen Court volunteer, she and fellow teen members of the jury mete out sentences to first-time offenders who have committed misdemeanors. The teen court works with 15 Miami-Dade public high schools.
Jennings, a rising junior at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High, has always wanted to be an attorney. She got her first taste of the world of law through the Miami-Dade Youth Legal Education Summit, which she participated in last year with other local high school students. This year’s summit will be held from July 31 to Aug. 1 at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens. (The deadline to apply is Friday.)
“It helped me with my speaking skills, opened my mind to try new things, and I learned so much about the law for the first time,” Jennings said.
At the annual summit, attorneys and other law enforcement experts teach the next generation of lawyers, bailiffs, and judges about the judicial process.
During this year’s summit, participants will get an intensive crash course on legal terms, courtroom decorum, opening and closing arguments, cross-examination and other courtroom knowledge.
The summit culminates in a mock trial competition on the last day, where Miami attorneys Patricia Henrys, Humberto Dominguez, Kristen Corpion, Christopher Benjamin and Miami-Dade Assistant County Attorney Joni Mosley preside as judges for each case.
The event also has sessions about the college admissions process, financial aid, budgeting, investing, gun violence, bullying and how social media perpetuates violence among youth.
In the long run, the summit exposes students to how the Teen Court works. Summit participants take part in at least two Teen Court hearings at one of five courtroom locations (including Miami Gardens City Hall, Hialeah City Hall and the North Dade Justice Center).
The teens on trial, who cannot have a previous offense, are not sentenced to jail; rather, they receive sanctions. Sanctions include performing community service, writing essays, attending workshops and apologizing to those who were harmed.
Once they complete their sanctions, their offense is expunged from public records.
Though not all students choose to go into law enforcement, some see the experience as invaluable to their future careers.
“It’s good to get into the law field at a young age and interact with other young people at the same time,” said Justin James, 16, who participated in the mock trial last year as a defendant. “It helped me with speaking in front of crowds and what I will be doing later on in life — accounting.”
How to apply
The deadline to apply for the Miami-Dade Youth Legal Education Summit is Friday, July 20. The application can be found at http://www.miamidade.gov/economicadvocacytrust/library/youth-legal-ed-summit-application.pdfat