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Court is in Session

03/05/2002
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Tobacco use is resulting in new gatherings of young people in Placer County, Calif.

"Tobacco Court," in which youths younger than 18 years old are judged and sentenced by their peers for tobacco-possession violations, convenes once a month in the Placer County Courthouse in Auburn, Calif. Defendants agree to be judged and sentenced by their peers.

The peer court is monitored by Superior Court Judge J. Richard Couzens. Youths serving as judges and jurors during a recent court session were all former smokers, and some were former defendants in Tobacco Court.

Panelists are given materials to study in preparation for their judicial roles, including questions to ask defendants and a form giving options for verdicts, according to the Sacramento Bee. Two panels composed of two or three members act as judges and juries after interviewing defendants in proceedings that last about 15 minutes each.

The Tobacco Court was started in 1999 as part of the county's general Peer Court program. It offers programs to help youths stop smoking and provides counseling for minors that want to kick their smoking habit, the report said.