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They Broke the Law—You Be the Judge

True Cases of Teen Crime


Teens often hear about other teens who get into trouble with the law. But they’re seldom asked what they think should happen next and why. A unique introduction to the juvenile justice system, this book invites teens to preside over a variety of real-life cases.

Readers meet Adam, who makes a threat at school; Erica, who assaults another student and uses marijuana; and more young people who commit crimes and are caught. Like a judge, readers learn each teen’s background, the relevant facts, and the sentencing options available. After deciding on a sentence, readers find out what really happened—and where each offender is today.

Along the way, readers learn Judge Jacobs’s concerns about each case, reflect on probing questions, and discover that they can’t jump to conclusions. Teens (and teachers) who want more can download the free role-playing ideas and scenarios related to the stories available in the Free Downloads tab below.

Thought-provoking and eye-opening, this book is for all teens who want to know more about the juvenile justice system and the laws that pertain to them and their peers.

Part of Self-Help for Teens®
Free Spirit is the leading publisher of learning tools that support teens’ social-emotional health.
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Paperback $15.99 21346 Paperback 21346 $15.99
ISBN: 978-1-57542-134-6
Reading Level: High school–adult
Interest Level: Ages 12 & up
Guided Reading Level: Z+
Trim Size: 6" x 9"
Page Count: 224

Praise for They Broke the Law—You Be the Judge
“A refreshing and completely unique resource.”—Youthworker

“Unusual and thought-provoking . . . with the proliferation of courtroom shows on television, this book gives young people a more realistic look at the legal system designed for them.”—School Library Journal

“An excellent introduction of how juvenile justice works . . . great resource for classroom and group discussions.”—Booklist

“Very relevant . . . will strike a chord with adolescent readers.”—Children’s Literature

“Ideal for class discussion . . . An excellent resource for mock trial preparation.”—Voice of Youth Advocates

  • ALA/YALSA “Quick Picks for the Reluctant Young Adult Reader,” Winner
  • ALA/YALSA “Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults,” Selected
  • Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards Finalist, Foreword Reviews Magazine

Download role plays for use in conjunction with the cases in the book.

  • Common Core State Standards


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User Reviews

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August 20, 2018 / SM Morgan - Georgia
A Student Favorite

I teach elementary gifted kids. I have used some of the cases with my students multiple times - originally as part of an interdisciplinary unit on the legal system. While we no longer do that unit, I still sneak a few of the stories in from time to time and link them to our evaluative thinking standard. The students love the stories and are frequently MUCH harder on the law breaking teens that Judge Jacobs was. (Some of the crimes involve drug and alcohol use, so I do not use those cases.)


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