Students learn about law and order

Published 1:56 am Monday, May 8, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
They had all seen the inside of a courtroom on the popular television shows like Law and Order and Boston Legal, but Thursday the senior classes of Escambia Academy and Escambia County High School got to experience a real life courtroom drama first hand.
The seniors were among students from Flomaton and Brewton who attended and participated in an actual trial at the annual Law Week held in the Brewton Court House each May.
The program, more than 25 years old, is sponsored by the Escambia County Bar Association and is held on the first Thursday and Friday of May each year.
"This program is good for the legal system, judges, court personnel, police personnel and lawyers," Law Week chairman Charles Godwin said. "It is a good way for these students to see what we do and how it effects their life's and how important their participation in the judicial system is. It is hard to get this kind of experience out of a text book or a classroom lecture."
The two-day event began with a program for the students featuring guest speakers such as Justice Lyn Stewart and Judge Sue Bell Cobb. Appearances were also made by the president of the Alabama State Bar, Bobby Segall and Scott Powell, president of the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association.
"All of the speakers offered insight into the rule of law and the rights of ordinary citizens to be protected in the judicial process as well as the rights and responsibilities of citizens to participate in the judicial branch."
Following the program, a student from each school that had been chosen as the winner of a law essay contest sponsored by the local Democratic Party, was awarded a cash prize and certificate.
The highlight of the student's trip to the courthouse was being able to witness and actually participate as jurors of an actual criminal trial for a young man, 20 years old, charged with a DUI.
Benjie Dunlap from ECHS was chosen to serve on the panel of jurors for the DUI trial.
"I was a little nervous," Dunlap said. "I had already mentioned to someone that I did not want to get chosen. It was cool to see an actual case. I have a new appreciation for the legal process. It was difficult to put everything aside and separate the facts from our own feelings. I really had to think about the consequences of what my decision would do. We found him not guilty."
Robert Patterson had never been in a courtroom before Thursday, but had seen one on television. He witnessed the same trial that Dunlap served on and he thinks that the jury made a poor call.
"I felt like the defendant was guilty," Patterson said. "His lawyer changed everybody's mind. Our sponsor even thought he was guilty at first until his lawyer made his statements. I thought the whole thing was going to be boring, but when I saw the process first hand, it actually made me think about law school myself. I am seriously considering changing my planned major of graphics art to law now. The only thing that would hold me back from pursuing law school is the amount of time required to complete it."
Tacorey Johnson is now thinking of how his college plans to major in Psychology can correlate with law school.
"I think the two go hand in hand," Johnson said. "And I like to argue. When I have a point to make, I like to get it across. I could not be a defense lawyer however, because of my strong Christian background. I couldn't let important details be overlooked and misconceived as a lie. I really do like law and thought the day in court was great. If I can figure out how to work in an internship during college I will. I don't want to flip burgers during the day and go to law school at night."
ECHS senior Chelsea Daniel is a different story from her fellow classmates. She also witnessed Thursday's proceedings and declares that she is even more anti-law now than before.
"I think he was guilty," Daniel said. "I am anti-law and have issues with our judicial system. It is in desperate need of revamping. This DUI case just proved it. For this guy to bomb on two tests done at the scene that are not immiscible in court, and then have the right to refuse the only test that is allowed as evidence in court, something is wrong. Not to mention that he was underage and drinking and was driving without a license."
Godwin does not see a down side to the program that has been running smoothly for years now.
"We have a good workable program," Godwin said. "There is just no down side to it. Some of these students already vote and the others are about to step out and take on the responsibility of citizenship in just a few weeks. This program has never been a mock trial. It has always been a real trial giving students a first hand look at the judicial system. We got authorization decades ago from the Alabama Supreme Court to make this a legal process that would stick. We want this experience to be as real as it can be and true to life for these students."
The students are allowed to legally set on a jury and make a decision based on the rationale that a defendant has the right to waive a trial by jury all together, therefore also giving the right to face trial by a jury outside of the standard 19 years and older requirement.

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