Alternative legal venues are legal channel used to solve misdemeanor cases; they may be formal or informal and operate independently from the mainstream court systems. The purpose of these venues is to reduce the legal workload presented to the mainstream courts; courts are the most overworked government systems with workload that sometimes can stretch for a whole year. Therefore, these alternative venues are tailored for specifically targeted situations so as to settle cases of that relation. There are quite a number of alternative legal venues such as Beach court, Teen Court, Prostitution impact panel, Restorative justice conferencing, Homeless Court. It is easier to understand the existence of these legal systems by analyzing the sociological theoretical perspective of Emily Durkheim. According to Durkheim, Lukes and Halls (2014), the theory the essential nature of deviance states that human beings are rebellious by nature and that defiance is an integral tool in a successful society
Through the ages human beings have rebelled and started revolutions to improve their way of life. In the US, people rebelled against the British to get their independence; blacks rebelled to receive equal treatment in the US. Defiance is an important tool when reassessment of the society is needed, however it can be used as an opportunity to reinforce the existing laws. For example if a child knows that stealing is wrong but nobody has ever rebelled and punished for it, he may think of stealing himself. But when someone rebels by stealing and is punished for it then that act reinforces the law hence other children may be reluctant in doing so themselves. Hence through defiance the system gets a chance to enforce the consequences of such acts. When dealing with misdemeanor cases it is important to provide tailored alternative legal venues that enforce Durkheim theory by providing solutions that push to solve the crimes involved and also the underlying issues involved. In San Diego the Attorneys office has gone to extreme measures to establish better and more efficient judicial systems in his state.
According to Nolan (2009), the introduction of community courts programs was to reduce the mainstream court work load and in addition providing more tailored and quick response or sentences. Community courts can be classified as alternative grievance resolution methods, this is a concept best applied in San Diego by the citys attorney office. Community courts include Beach court, Teen court, Prostitution impact panel, Restorative justice conferencing, Homeless court. After a very long backlog of cases over the years, three years ago the city attorney sort to find a permanent approach to this issue. It was established that majority of the cases in the workload were misdemeanor cases, these are petty cases that can be solved outside the court. However, the parties involved in these cases had not sort or tried other grievance resolution methods. Therefore, the office realized that it was in their best interest to find a method or platforms for dealing with such issues. Due to that necessity community court programs were established and have up to date been very successful.
According to Baum (2011), a homeless court is a special set up or arrangement made by the superior court whereby a temporary court is set up at the homeless shelter to deal with the issues or conflicts that arise from the homeless. In the case of the San Diego homeless court they deal with misdemeanor offenses and warrants. Courts are expensive and many people may not afford to go to one, therefore, increasing the probability of a homeless person affording such. Homeless courts are established due to such reasons and in addition to reduce the legal workload of the mainstream courts. The judges, defense lawyers, prosecutors and the homeless shelter services involved agree on a different arrangement where they do not enforce bonds or take people into custody. These court systems offer alternative sentencing by understanding the why, in relation to Durkheim theory it is important to understand the reason for defiance to realize or reach a progressive outcome. Hence, in this case homeless people who commit offenses due to their financial, social and legal inadequacies are given training programs. If they agree to go through training their charges are dropped and through the training they become self sufficient. If a defendant fails to take his training program, then a more aggressive sentence is made.
A teen court can also be referred to as a youth, peer or student court. It is a court set up to solve cases involving minors, therefore, its rulings or sentencing are different from the superior courts. Teen courts programs or systems can be established by various organizations such as law enforcement, private nonprofit organizations, schools, juvenile probation departments and juvenile courts. The main aim of this court is not to punish the defendants but rather to rehabilitate them. With positive professional training and counseling teenagers can be easily persuaded from criminal ways. Youth courts deal with misdemeanor cases, therefore, their sentencing options need to be lenient and serve as rehabilitation to the teen defendants. They include jury duty, curfew, counseling, restitution, educational workshops, drugs assessment, community service and apologies either written or oral. The sentence is chosen in relation to the specific issue given for the crime which may motivate the defendant by feeling included and considered in the process hence preventing further aggression. Teen courts have a few models are adult judge, youth judge, peer jury and youth tribunal models. A Majority of youth court require a defendant to plead guilty before a court hearing for them to improvise an appropriate sentencing. However about 20 percent of youth courts allow the defendants to go directly for a hearing.
Conforming to Sviridoff (2000), prostitution impact panel main aim is to rehabilitate the offenders caught or sentenced by the law. In San Diego, the system was introduced by the citys attorney office and mid-city community. Offenders are offered counseling services whereby they attend monthly meetings. In these meetings, they watch videos which analyze the negative effects of prostitution on a personal and societal level. These videos are personalized giving a more relative approach where the information is collected in the area affected or in the neighborhoods of the people attending the meetings. The program encourages people to embrace legal, social and physical responsibilities as a way of reducing the practice. Over the three years after introduction statistics have proven that the program has a very high success rate.
Conforming to Zehr (2015), Restorative justice is whereby cases or issues are solved by more practical means. The focus is not on the legal means or sentences offered on the existing cases but rather on how to understand and solve the issues offered by both the defendant and the victims. Therefore their main purpose is meeting both parties needs; however, the defendant is ordered to pay or return stolen goods in a case of theft and as a sign of goodwill before the issues are all cleared. In a case of aggression the defendant is asked to apologize. This approach is very effective in a situation where issues involved are of a social background or affect a whole community. In many places, this form of grievance resolution method is highly applicable, for example when dealing with a communal issue it is usually the best approach whereby the community is allowed to give suggestions of the approach or solutions that they perceive to be more effective. For instance if a community is at war with another in relation to road ownership, this approach has also been used in third world countries to solve issues related to land and other resources.
In conclusion, aggression or defiance is not only solved through tough and extreme response but rather through well-tailored solutions were both sides issues and needs are considered. Therefore when solving disputes the mainstream courts may not offer the best solution hence there is wisdom in trying to settle disputes outside these systems. Alternative disputes resolution methods are more effective when dealing with misdemeanor cases and save much time since there is not much workload. When applicable it is important to avoid the expenses incurred when dealing with the mainstream court. Therefore, it is imperative to note that alternative legal venues provide justice or closure to people who cannot afford to go to superior court.
Baum, L. (2011). Specializing the courts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Durkheim, E., Lukes, S., & Halls, W. (2014). The rules of sociological method. New York: Free Press.
Nolan, J. (2009). Legal accents, legal borrowing. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sviridoff, M. (2000). Dispensing justice locally. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Harwood Academic Publishers.
Zehr, H. The little book of restorative justice.
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