Ordinarily the city’s attorneys present their cases to City Court Judge Richard McCord at Glen Cove City Court but not so on the afternoon of May 31. McCord ceded his responsibilities to 13-year-old Samantha McCormack that day, who presided over a court case with her eighth-grade All Saints Regional Catholic School classmates acting as attorneys and jurors.
The event was part of the city’s Teen Court program, during which teens from Glen Cove High School and All Saints take part in real-life court cases, with their decisions directly affecting the outcome of a trial. People awaiting trial in Glen Cove are given the opportunity to have their case tried in Teen Court if their crime is not particularly troubling and is something that teens could understand. In exchange, they can be granted an easier sentence.
McCord started the program in 2001 when he began to understand that teenagers going through the criminal process were often frightened of it because they didn’t understand it. He contacted former State Sen. Carl Marcellino to come up with a positive way to introduce teens to the process, and through consistent grants from Marcellino, Teen Court came to be. When Marcellino lost his seat last year to Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from Northport, the new senator committed to also funding for the program.
This was the final Teen Court session for All Saints because it is closing its doors at the end of this school year. Diane Marshall, whose history class consists of the teens involved in the program, said that although this is a sad time for the school, her students were no less excited for the opportunity to participate in Teen Court. During their classes, they watched court-related movies such as “12 Angry Men” and had class discussions on remaining open-minded in a jury room.
And attorney John Maccarone, who coordinates the program with the City Court, came to Marshall’s class once a week to share his knowledge of the legal process. Maccarone and Marshall decided which students should serve which roles based on their engagement in the class. After going over the case, students designed statements and questions to ask witnesses, which Maccarone looked over and approved before going into the courtroom.
The defendant in the case was a 19-year-old Glen Cove man who was given a ticket on Jan. 1, 2019 when police, called to his home, found evidence of underage drinking during a party. Acting as defense attorneys were Jonathan Vriones, 14, Lauren Babich, 14, and Jackie Quinn, 13. On the other side of the aisle were Claire Aboueid, 13, Ava Beaulieu, 13, and Brooke Malvino, 14, who acted on behalf of the city in prosecuting the defendant.
After the lawyers made their opening statements to the jury, the prosecution called its first witness to the stand — Kristen Demetropolis, a Glen Cove police officer who had been called to the defendant’s home on the night of the party. Demetropolis described seeing intoxicated teenagers and empty alcohol containers, although she said the host did not seem drunk.
Then the defense called its client to testify on his own behalf. Saying he didn’t serve alcohol at the party, he did admit that some of his underage guests were drunk when the police arrived.
Following the closing statements, seven jurors exited the courtroom to deliberate.
Ten minutes later they announced that the defendant was guilty. However, unlike a regular court session, Judge McCormack did not sentence the defendant after the verdict. That will be left in the hands of McCord.
While he said that gaining an understanding of how the American legal process works is a substantial reason as to why the Teen Court program is valuable, McCord also explained that he hopes that the students gain a larger understanding of the nature of American laws.
“I want them to learn that, if they come to this court or any court, they will be treated fairly, just like anyone else…” he said. “So, the life lesson is, ‘Don’t be afraid. Know what your rights are and pursue them.’”