The Georgia Municipal Court Clerks’ Council recognized Suwanee Municipal Court with the distinguished Program of the Year award for Suwanee’s HOPE Court. The Program of the Year award honors municipal courts throughout the state of Georgia that are making a difference. The awards committee selected Suwanee’s HOPE Court for its efforts in educating first-time youth offenders and providing them a second chance at maintaining their driving privileges.
In 2015, a Georgia law was changed to allow offenders under the age of 17 to potentially appear in front of a jury, rather than a judge in a municipal court, as the law stated prior. Suwanee Chief Judge Norman Cuadra thought that this type of trial would be detrimental to a youth with a minor violation, and began creating a way to retain jurisdiction over these cases – and the City of Suwanee’s HOPE Court was born.
“It’s doesn’t take much for a young driver to have his license suspended,” said Judge Cuadra. “We want to help these kids who have made mistakes – like most teenagers do – and not have them face potentially life-altering consequences on a first-time minor offense.”
The first of its kind in Gwinnett County, HOPE Court provides a second chance for first-time offenders under the age of 21 who have committed lesser crimes such as speeding, texting while driving, open container, shoplifting, and drugs. These youths can plead guilty and receive a modified sentence – usually a small fine, community service, and/or attending the Teen Victim Impact Panel class at the Gwinnett County court – and have the incident wiped from their records. To date, the HOPE Court has had over 757 successful participants.
“We wanted an opportunity to educate these teenagers, and hopefully not see them again,” said Judge Cuadra. “Instead of suspending their licenses or driving their parents’ insurance up with points, HOPE Court offers the chance to impact their lives and have greater consequences in the long run.”