Innocent Until Proven Guilty

At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200-250 words)

“Innocent until proven guilty” does not apply within the perimeters of Youth Court.

As a diversion court for juvenile misdemeanor crimes, our job is not to determine a defendant’s ‘guiltiness’, but rather solely to prescribe an appropriate sentence. More striking than the program’s unique focus on a restorative justice model is the involvement of teenagers—mere students—in the court process. From the jury to the judge, each courtroom role is filled by the defendant’s peers.

In six years, I’ve taken on every possible role—juror, bailiff, clerk, advocate, and judge—but I’ve had the strongest attachment to my role as the defense advocate. It’s been the only position where I’ve been able to meet the defendant and actually listen to their first-hand accounts—stories that are often stereotyped and framed into narratives they didn’t create.

I aspire to share these stories with others in the courtroom, but have always been careful to avoid a “savior complex”. I know that my role in the process has never been to ‘fix’ the structural problems I’ve observed in some of the families, nor has it ever been my place as an outsider to offer anything outside of the courtroom. I only hope that the stories I’ve brought to the forefront have caught...

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