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Delaware Docket Newsletter

THE YOUTH FORUM GOES INTERNATIONAL

Twenty four French high school students experienced the American prosecutorial process first hand when they assisted in the case of The State v. The Cellphone Thief tried in New Castle County’s Superior Court on April 20, 2012. Visiting from Lyon, France, as guests of the Tower Hill School, the students, their two French teachers, and their American guide for the day, Patricia Schwartz, Esq., were engaged in an openquestion session on the American judicial system with Superior Court Judge Mary M. Johnston, Deputies Attorney General, Ipek Medford, Esq. and Danielle Brennan, Esq., and Deputy State Court Administrator, Amy Quinlan, Esq., when suddenly, a phone rang in Ms. Schwartz’s pocket. A member of the Administrative Office of the Courts staff recognized the phone as hers and a mock trial was staged to determine whether Ms. Schwartz had stolen the phone or, as she claimed, inadvertently picked it up.

Youth Forum
French high school students participating in a Youth Forum at the New Castle County Courthouse.

Twelve students were selected as jury members and the other students were evenly divided between the prosecution and defense. As the prosecution and defense teams prepared their case, jurors were instructed on the jury process and selected a foreperson. The students got to practice their English as they gave opening statements, examined and cross‐examined witnesses, and made closing arguments (one in French to better persuade the jury). The students were guided through the process with interpretive assistance provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts Staff Attorney, Ashley Tucker, Esq. (whose language of origin is French). Judge Johnston instructed the jurors who then deliberated on the strengths and weaknesses of the case. Although it was a hung jury, the students gained a greater understanding of the challenges faced by an American jury that must reach a unanimous decision.

The concept of a jury “of your peers” was a novel idea for many of the students and the subject of numerous questions regarding jury selection, the number of jurors, and jury duty. In France, ordinary citizens do not serve as jurors in civil matters or in most criminal matters. Ordinary citizens only serve in aggravated criminal matters, such as murder or when the possibility of incarceration exceeds ten years. In such instances, a jury is composed of six citizens and three magistrats (professional judges or judicial officers). The chief magistrat (président) acts as a moderator, judge, and jury in the arguments between prosecutors and defense counsel. France is based on an inquisitorial system of justice so that the court is actively involved in investigating the facts of the case. Citizen‐jurors can question witnesses on factual matters to help with their analysis. A verdict is reached by a majority decision.

During the open question session, the students were surprised by the Deputy Attorney General’s explanation that prior criminal history cannot be introduced under the Rules of Evidence, as well as the fact that Delaware has the death penalty – France abolished it in 1981. Of additional interest to the students was that the Delaware Superior Court is a court of general jurisdiction able to hear either civil or criminal matters. In contrast, French courts have different courts for different matters including: the tribunal administratif which hears all disputes in which the State or any public institution is a party; the tribunal de grande instance which handles civil matters in excess of €10,000 (approximately $13,000) and family law issues; the tribunal de commerce which handles commercial disputes; the conseil de prud’hommes which resolves labor law disputes; the tribunal correctional that hears criminal matters in which incarceration is less than ten years; and the Cour d’assises that handles aggravated criminal matters. Cases that involve mixed questions of civil and criminal law are heard by the criminal courts. The concept of plea bargaining, which until recently did not exist in France, was discussed.

Prior to the mock trial, the students toured the courthouse and the Capitol Police’s security facilities. The students viewed the Capitol Police’s collection of confiscated objects that litigants have tried to bring into the courthouse, including brass knuckles (known as poing américain in France or “American fist”), and a canine demonstration. This is the second annual visit of French students to the New Castle County Courthouse, and we look forward to continuing these international experiences.

 

For further information contact Amy.Quinlan@state.de.us.

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