Mock DUI trials teach Highland students about courts, decision making

Amelia Flood May 1, 2009, 8:22am

Students from Highland Middle School take part in mock
trials to learn about the courts systems Friday. Madison County Associate Judges Clarence Harrison and Duane Bailey, as well as other volunteers, helped put the trials on.

Today was not a good day for pop singers Miley Cyrus and Nick Jonas in Madison County Circuit Court.

In a mock trial conducted by Madison County Associate Judge Duane Bailey, a jury of eighth graders convicted the popular young stars, portrayed by Highland High School students, on fake DUI charges.

The mock trial, one of two taking place at the Madison County Courthouse, were to expose over 200 eighth grade students to the court system, its workings and its consequences.

"They soak in a lot more than we maybe realize just by being here," teacher Chris Hartlieb, the day's organizer, said.

The mock trials have been going on for more than 18 years. They work in tandem with an Optimist International program that teaches kids to respect the law.

All the eighth graders were from Highland Middle School.

Students observe lawyers from the community and local police officers as they testify in fake cases. Bailey and fellow associate Judge Clarence Harrison oversaw the cases, explaining procedures, charges and other aspects of the courts to the students.

The day uses DUI cases because many students will be driving in the next few years, Hartlieb said.

"I encourage them not to just focus on the DUI aspect," he explained. "But also the kind of career options there are in law enforcement...and the court process."

The students have been studying the Illinois' Constitution as required by the state and the judicial branch. One hope of the program, Hartlieb said, was that students would understand the connection between the legal system and good citizenship, both in obeying laws and being parts of the system as jurors.

Eighth grade students served on the two juries and deliberated briefly before deciding on guilty verdicts in both mock trials.

Bailey and Harrison then conducted question and answer sessions.

Bailey, who had briefly served in today's trials as both judge and prosecutor, urged the students to take to heart what they had seen and heard.

"Today we had a lot of fun," Bailey told students in farewell. "But if you see me after today, let me assure you that I'm not playing games."

More News