I’m a Tulsa Kid: Katie Kentz
Katie Kentz wears a black robe and holds a gavel while serving as judge in Youth Services of Tulsa Youth Court. Katie and her fellow Youth Court members give first-time juvenile offenders an opportunity for a hearing conducted by their peers.
TK: How did you become interested in Youth Court?
Katie: A friend told me about all the clubs that Youth Services of Tulsa has, so I looked on their website. I thought Youth Court sounded interesting, so I went to the first training, and I’m so glad I did!
TK: What process did you have to go through in order to get to serve on Youth Court?
Katie: There were four training sessions before the first case. They mostly consisted of the different crimes we would see in the courtroom, the laws regarding teens, how to interview clients, and the different punishments available. We also did a mock trial focusing on courtroom etiquette and what the different positions were. After that, we observed a few trials before we could start.
TK: What role do you prefer to serve in court?
Katie: My favorite role is the judge because as judge you listen to the case and figure out a fitting punishment. As judges, we try to consider everything and not just side one way or the other. The judge can combine the attorney’s recommendations or give another sentence entirely. There are several things to consider when deciding on a punishment, and it sometimes takes awhile for all three judges to agree on a sentence, considering all sides of the crime and the defendant. There is more work involved as an attorney, and you also get to question the defendant during the trial. But you don’t always know how the defendant will respond to a question, so it’s a lot more thinking on your feet.
TK: How do you prepare for a case?
Katie: For judges and the bailiff, there isn’t much preparation involved.
The prosecuting attorney has to build a case around the police report, which contains information such as the defendant’s age and the crime (from the officer’s view). He or she then has to ask questions, like if the crime was planned or if the defendant was pressured. The prosecutor really doesn’t know much at the beginning!
The defending attorney also receives the police report, but then gets to interview the defendant. The attorney will ask the defendant to tell his or her version of what happened, but also questions about school, extra-curriculars and volunteering, and any punishments already received, so the judges can then decide on a sentence. For example, one defendant who stole something, but also takes honors classes, works at the food bank, has already been grounded for six months and is really sorry will probably get a lesser sentence than a defendant who stole something smaller but doesn’t do anything and isn’t sorry.
TK: What is it like being in a role where you are sentencing teens your age?
Katie: It’s kind of awkward sometimes, because some of the defendants won’t take us seriously. And I realize we don’t have the power to send them to prison, but they need to realize that this is their one chance. After we give the sentence, we always try to make sure they understand that the next time they commit a crime, they will go to a municipal court and the crime will be on their permanent record.
But it’s also a really good feeling to be able to help the kids so they hopefully won’t commit any more crimes and can use this as a learning experience.
TK: How do you and your court decide the punishment?
Katie: In every trial we have a presiding judge and two other judges. All three decide on the punishment based on the defendant’s age, severity of the crime, if there was peer pressure, and their attitude in the courtroom. We try to give a punishment that won’t be miserably difficult but will give them time to see their mistake and make it up or give back to the victim.
TK: How does your involvement in Youth Court impact your classes at school?
Katie: Knowing how a trial works helped in my government class, especially when we were studying Supreme Court cases and the Judicial System. The whole process also helps a lot with critical thinking.
TK: Do your future plans include the law profession?
Katie: I don’t know! I hope to major in history or political science, both of which somewhat involve the law.