Xavier Lopez (left), a Marble Falls High School student, listens to his defense attorneys make an opening statement during his teen court case. Lopez pleaded no contest to a speeding ticket. Aydan Ortis and Emma Martin acted as Lopez’s defense attorneys and sought a light community service sentence from teen jurors. Staff photos by Dakota Morrissiey
Granite Shoals held its first teen court on Monday, Oct. 17, at City Hall. The city joined with Marble Falls to create the Highland Lakes Teen Court, in which local students prosecute, defend, and deliberate in cases of minor offenses committed by their peers.
Presiding over the cases are municipal judges Frank Reilly in Granite Shoals and Cheryl Pounds in Marble Falls. Reilly had been a mentor attorney in the Marble Falls system since 2019 and was instrumental in the formation of Highland Lakes Teen Court, which covers the entire area.
The court will alternate between the two cities on Monday nights through April 2023. It offers deferred adjudication to teen defendants, meaning they can keep minor citations off of their record if they accept responsibility for their crimes. Those who choose to go through teen court automatically plead guilty or no contest and let their peers defend, prosecute and sentence them to a range of community service hours and jury service terms, depending on the severity of their violation.
Marble Falls High School student Xavier Lopez was the first defendant in teen court on Monday night. He pleaded no contest to going 76 mph in a 45-mph zone on RR 1431 near a Marble Falls residential area on Sept. 15. While Lopez’s guilt had already been decided, it was up to the young defenders, prosecutors, and jurors to argue for and determine his sentencing.
Lopez’s offense is a Class 5 violation under teen court rules, which can be punished by 20-50 hours of community service and three to four jury service terms.
Prosecuting Lopez were Jeremiah Moseby, a local homeschool student, and Alicia Bast, a foreign exchange student from Germany. The prosecution opened, laying out the dangers of going 31 mph over the speed limit through a residential area and asking the jury to consider this when making its decision. They sought 50 hours of community service and four jury terms.
Then, Lopez’s defense, Aydan Ortis, a Marble Falls High School student and daughter of Granite Shoals Police Chief John Ortis, and Emma Martin also a MFHS student, presented their opening argument.
“While our client was in the wrong, he had a very good reason to be speeding that we will discuss later on,” Martin said. “We ask that you listen to the evidence and render a fair and just verdict.”
Professional attorneys acted as advisors for both the defense and prosecution on their cases, for which each had about 30 minutes to prepare prior to the trial.
Moseby called Granite Shoals Patrol Sgt. Allen Miley to the stand as a witness. While Miley was not the officer who issued the citation, he gave expert testimony.
“Any mile per hour over the speed limit can be considered dangerous,” Miley told the court after Moseby asked if Lopez was traveling at a dangerous speed. “Speed limits are set for a reason.”
Miley went on to say that, at 76 mph, it would have taken hundreds of feet for Lopez to react and slow down.
The defense took their turn with Miley, asking him to clarify if the citation itself was the extent of his knowledge, seeing that he was not the officer who wrote the ticket. Miley confirmed this and left the stand, returning to his role as bailiff.
The defense called Lopez to the stand, where he relayed his side of the events, stating he was rushing home to check on his mother, who had been sick earlier in the day. He was attending a mandatory pregame dinner for the Marble Falls football team.
Ortis asked if he was concerned about his mother.
“Yes, I was very worried,” Lopez told the court.
The defense continued, confirming the officer who pulled over Lopez was aware of why he was speeding and that Lopez was regretful of his actions.
“I understand my actions were bad and there is no good enough reason for what I did,” Lopez testified.
When it was the prosecution’s turn with Lopez, Moseby questioned how worried he could have been for his mother if he left her to attend the football team dinner.
Lopez confirmed it was a mandatory dinner, but he left early.
Both the defense and prosecution rested, leaving the jury to deliberate and come to a unanimous decision on a sentence. Within minutes, jurors returneds and announced they had agreed on 40 hours of community service and four jury terms as punishment.
Judge Reilly confirmed the sentencing, concluding Lopez’s trial within 30 minutes. Lopez then served on the jury of the proceeding case as one of his sentenced terms.
“They’re learning how the criminal justice system works,” Reilly told DailyTrib.com. “They learn how to make presentations. Their confidence levels go way up from the time we start to when they finish.”