Seventh graders at Gadsden city schools recently got a close-up view of court proceedings and how the law works.
Gadsden Municipal Court Judge Nikki Tinker presided over a mock “trial” at Gadsden High School, where more than 200 students watched a trial by a jury of their peers.
The simulated court proceeding was Tinker’s idea – she wanted students to experience the roles of prosecutors, defense attorneys, bailiffs, court clerks, the stenographer, witnesses and jury in a courtroom setting. Students from Emma Sansom Middle School, playing the part of the “Law Firm of Emma Sansom Middle LLC — acted as the defense team charged with representing the defendant, Jamie Doe, on a third-degree theft. Seventh graders from Litchfield Middle School, playing the Litchfield Attorney’s Office, prosecuted the case. Gadsden Middle School students were court administrators, with 12 students acting as jurors charged to deliberate and return the verdict. Several teachers videoed the proceedings to aid in discussions with the children upon return to school.
Tinker planned the program to give seventh graders insight into the judicial system, and an inside look at careers in law and related fields. She said that the judicial branch of government plays a part in everyone’s lives.
“Unless there are juvenile criminal issues or family matters, one typically does not get introduced to the courtroom until they’re an adult,” said Tinker, a graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law and a Contracts agent for Generation at Alabama Power.
“I want them to understand that there are real options available for them, with various opportunities to work in the courtroom, whether it is as a judge, a lawyer or another career,” she said. “We want them not to be intimidated by the process, but to think about its purpose. A shoplifting case results in criminal penalties.”
Gadsden Schools Superintendent Tony Reddick said that he feels that children are losing faith in the judicial system.
“That’s why we wanted them to see this court in action, to see how the law works,” Reddick said. “This gave kids the chance to see what the judicial system looks like and feel like.”
Tinker established a scenario for the court case: A teenager, Jamie, was accused of stealing a video game after a police officer confronted Jamie in the store’s parking lot, with a video game in her pocket. Jamie had been in the store with her mother shopping for items for her brother’s upcoming birthday party. While shopping, Jamie faced several distractions. The question for the jury was whether Jamie intended to take the video game, thus committing a crime, or whether her actions were accidental.
The prosecution offered testimony from the store clerk, who informed the office that merchandise had been stolen, and from the officer who found the video game in Jamie’s pocket. The defense introduced Jamie’s best friend, who stated that she had stashed the game in Jamie’s pocket when she wasn’t looking.
Litchfield students Demia Taylor and Kiaza Flemmin, and Emma Sansom students Kacey Calhoun and Emily Hau were lawyers. Anna Claire Ashley portrayed the defendant. Other participants included Alawyn Alacray, Chloe Williams, Devnevea Simpkins, Charley Williams, Andrew Pounds, Taylor Williams, Aaliyah Bostick, Jennifer Miranda, Jaedyn Sharp and Kelis Wilson.
As jurors decided Jamie’s fate, Tinker said the winners of the case would receive a trophy. In what will be an annual event, Tinker said that each year the trophy will travel to the school that wins the mock trial.
After a 35-minute deliberation, students gasped when the verdict was announced: Jamie was guilty.
Tinker awarded $500 to Litchfield Middle School as the winners, with $100 to be spent for a pizza party for students.
“I think the students came away with a better understanding of our court system,” Tinker said. “We want to inspire them, and let them know how life truly is. There are a lot of opportunities out there, and they can pursue whatever career they choose. They should also know that there are female judges and there are minority judges, and that they can be a judge also if they work for it.”
“This was an educational opportunity, and we hope the schools continue to teach this throughout the year so that when this time comes again next year, they’ll be even more prepared,” she said.
Reddick thanked Tinker for taking the time to work with students and show them the importance of the judicial system.
“I hope they will embrace what they learned,” Reddick said. “These are tenets that can guide them for the rest of their lives.”