MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS LEARN ABOUT THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
Middle school students from several New Castle County schools are having an opportunity to spend a morning in the New Castle County Courthouse to learn more about how the court system works and to speak informally with prosecutors and public defenders. Starting with a tour of the courthouse, the students learn about the "nuts and bolts" of the justice system, including new technologies used in the courtroom, as well as court facilities and security, and watch a demonstration by Pocket, the dog whose well-trained nose aids Capitol Police in protecting the courthouse.
Thereafter, they get an opportunity to learn about the legal aspects of the court system from a judge who explains how trials work. And, then, when they least expect it, they get to experience a trial themselves " albeit a mock one. As they are listening to the judge explain the various aspects of a trial, a "theft" occurs and the alleged perpetrator is put on trial. Students act as prosecutors, public defenders, judges, bailiffs, and jurors, with their real-life counterparts coaching them on their roles. After the trial is completed and the jury reaches a verdict, the group discusses what occurred at the trial and why the jury reached its verdict. The visit concludes with lunch and an opportunity to speak informally with the real life prosecutors, public defenders, and others involved in the trial.
All of those attending expressed a great deal of enthusiasm about the experience. "I loved everything!" exclaimed one student on his evaluation. "My favorite part of the day was the mock trial. It was fun to act like it was a real case," said another. A third student appreciated the one-on-one contact with those who work in the field, saying "My favorite part of the day was talking to Mr. Andy [Public Defender Andrew Rosen]. He told me some important things." And the professionals involved enjoyed working with the students, as well, according to "Mr. Andy" of the Public Defender's Office.
In November and December, the project hosted approximately 25 students from Bayard Middle School in Wilmington, as well as about 180 students over three days from Newark Charter School. In the upcoming months, the project is slated to host students from East Side Charter, Springer Middle School, and H.B. duPont Middle School.
The project, which is spearheaded by the Administrative Office of the Courts, is a cooperative effort with the Attorney General's Office and the Office of the Public Defender. It originated last year as part of the Delaware Supreme Court's racial and ethnic fairness initiative, which is co-chaired by Justice Henry duPont Ridgely of the Supreme Court and Chief Judge Alex J. Smalls of the Court of Common Pleas.