'Guilty!' Students learn about legal system
May 8, 2008
Sitting at the defendant's table in the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate Courtroom here Monday afternoon, Fort Rucker Elementary School 5th grader Patrick Lewis hung his head in shame.
A jury of the young man's peers had just found him guilty of stealing a bike.
Around him, fellow students clapped and cheered and, soon, Lewis raised his head and joined in the merriment as his 5th grade class celebrated the successful conclusion of their mock trial.
"They did an awesome job on this mock trial - it was very accurate and realistic," Capt. Juliana Lee, Fort Rucker legal assistance chief, said. "I was blown away by the students' closing arguments, which they actually wrote themselves."
The mock trial, which followed the case of Lewis and the April 1 theft of Erica Tucker's bike, was one of several activities Fort Rucker's legal office conducted in observance of Law Day.
"Law Day is a nationally recognized day, and I thought it would be great if we could get the younger students involved," Lee said. "(Today), they got to see how our judicial process works and have fun, too."
In addition to offering the students a fun activity, the mock trial covered several complex legal concepts including jury instructions and opening statements and defined terms like circumstantial evidence, leading questions, burden of proof and admissible information.
"I was really impressed, the script was phenomenal," Staff Judge Advocate Lt. Col. Michael Smidt said. "There were lots of complex legal concepts in the script so the drill was really fantastic."
Fifth grade teacher Sylvia Patrick said this was the first time in several years the students had participated in a mock trial and she was happy to get them involved in the process again.
"The good of this lesson is that these are the future leaders and this gave them a taste of what is out there, particularly in the area of law," she said. "Many of the students have expressed an interest in the law so we wanted to let them see what it is really all about."
The students were excited about the mock trial and many were anxious to do it again.
Emma Lindsay, who acted as one of the judges during the trial, said she learned what an important job the judge has. Trevor Prickett, who was a defense attorney, said the mock trial taught him about the rules of the court and made him even more interested in pursuing a career in law.
"I learned a lot about what you are not allowed to do in court such as asking if (the defendant) has ever been arrested," he said.
Jessica Morton, a member of the prosecution team, said the trial taught her how much work a lawyer must do to prepare a case.
"I learned that the (legal system) uses a lot of complicated methods and has a lot of rules," she said.
Craig MacDonald, also a member of the prosecution team, said he appreciated Patrick's hard work and the opportunity she provided for her students to learn more about an occupation he is very interested in pursuing.
"I learned that during court, you really have to know your facts well to be able to present a convincing case," he said. "I learned that you have to make (the witnesses) talk the way you want them to talk."
Smidt said he was very impressed with the students' performance, jokingly adding that he would like to switch some of his own team out for a few of the 5th graders.
"I know our justice system is in great hands with folks like you participating in it," he said. "I hope that some of you choose to go into the law at some point - boy, you would be great."