Seattle Municipal Court Hon. Karen Donohue, Presiding

Programs and Services

Seattle Youth Traffic Court (SYTC)

Seattle's first Youth Traffic Court provides eligible teen drivers charged with a traffic violation the opportunity to maintain a clean driving record. Once a teen driver opts into Youth Court, he or she will appear before teen peers, who act as judges, jurors, defense attorneys and prosecutors. The peer jury will determine an appropriate sentence, taking into account the nature of the charged violation, any mitigating factors that the teen driver may provide to the jury, as well as the impact of the violation to the larger community.

As part of the Youth Court sentence, teen drivers may be required to complete community service hours, write an essay on the particular dangers resulting from the violation, or write a letter of apology to those impacted by the violation. All teen drivers who opt into Youth Court must also act as a juror on at least one future Youth Court case.

In addition to maintaining a clean driving record as a result of their successful participation in Youth Court, teen drivers also learn first-hand how our country's system of justice works and their role in that system, fostering a greater sense of civic responsibility.

The Youth Court Initiative

Seattle Youth Traffic Court is part of a broader initiative in Washington State and the United States. There are over 1,400 youth courts nationally in which young people are sentenced by their peers for traffic, juvenile offenses, truancy, and school rule violations. Seattle's Youth Traffic Court is a member of the Washington Association of Youth Courts.

National studies indicate that teens who are sentenced in youth courts are less than half as likely to make the same mistake in the future. In addition, the volunteer nature of the court saves taxpayers money.

Seattle's Youth Traffic Court is the first traffic court partnering with a law school, in which law student mentors train the high school students and manage the court process. This partnership between the Seattle Municipal Court, Seattle University Law School and Garfield High School began in 2012 and the first Youth Court cases were heard in March 2012.

Youth Court provides civic education benefits to the high school volunteers and the teen drivers. Both learn firsthand how our country's system of justice works and their role in that system. The volunteers learn and apply due process, equal protection, and rule of law principles to their cases. The drivers learn about the consequences of their actions and it is anticipated that they make the roads safer for all drivers.

Making a Difference

Seattle Youth Traffic Court is the 2012 recipient of the Seattle CityClub's Colleen Willoughby Youth Civic Education Awards. Winners of this prestigious award demonstrate a commitment to developing civic knowledge, skills, experience and values.

Seattle Youth Traffic Court is the 2016 recipient of the Spirit of Community Award by the Seattle University Center for Community Engagement. This award recognizes an innovative and collaborative project that responds to a community-identified need.

Partners, Volunteers, Contacts and Resources

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Eligibility Requirements

  • All teen drivers at least 16 years of age and under 18 years of age;
  • Teen driver admits that he or she committed the charged traffic violation;
  • Parents of the teen driver agree that the case be heard in Seattle Youth Traffic Court; and,
  • Teen driver has no previous criminal or traffic convictions on their record and have not previously participated in a youth court proceeding.


Teen drivers who participate in Seattle Youth Traffic Court will be required to:

  • Meet with a designated law student to prepare for their hearing;
  • At the hearing, talk about the violation and be prepared to respond to questioning by the attorneys regarding the violation;
  • Accept the sentence set by a jury of their peers and complete its terms within the deadline set by the jury;
  • Serve as a youth court juror on one or more future cases.

Upon Successful Completion

  • The charged violation is dismissed and does not appear on the teen's driving record;
  • Teens have a better understanding of how their actions impact others in their communities;
  • Teens begin to develop a since of civic responsibility; and,
  • Teens become better drivers making the roads safer for everyone in our community.

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