VISTA — More than 1,000 fifth grade through high school studnets packed into Vista Superior Court on March 14.
The annual Youth in Court Day allows students to learn about the justice system first hand.
“It educates students on the legal system and our court process,” Deborah Streeter, president of the North County Bar Association and co-chair of the event committee, said.
“We invite all schools in North County.”
Most students were awed as soon as they walked through the metal detector to enter the courthouse.
“Some are already a little nervous to come in,” Deborah Tapia, parent from Oceanside Adventist Elementary, said
Fifth and sixth grade students from Oceanside Adventist Elementary took part in a mock trial. Students role-played a senario in the courtroom in which two studnets were accused of drug possession.
The senario included opening and closing arguements, witness testimony, and jury deliberation.
Students took part as attorneys, defendants, bailiff, court clerk and jury members.
For the postions of bailiff and court reporter students paired up with an official who holds that position.
The judge gave directions and scripts to the rest of the students.
During the mock trial the judge clarified how to consider evidence, and the responsibilities of the attorneys and jury.
After the jury stated its verdict, the two defendants who were found guilty were handcuffed, and a tour of the holding facility was given to the group.
Judge Harry Elias said often times the tour of the holding facility is the most memorable part of the day for students.
Afterwards there was a question and answer session with the judge.
An attorney escorted studnets and answered additional questions.
Attorneys involved in the program said it is good exposure for students.
“They don’t know what to expect,” attorney Melaine Smith said.
Fith grade teacher Angela Payaban said the lesson fits in with U.S. history and government studies in the classroom.
High school students experienced a real life lesson. They heard a testimonial from a teen involved in a crime, and how it effected his life.
“You don’t hear a pin drop, they are riveted,” Streeter said.
Youth in Court Day has been held annually for 13 years. Judges and attorneys volunteer their time. Planning the day takes concerted effort.
“We shut down half the courthouse,” Streeter said. “Nothing else compares to it.”
In recent years the demand to participate has exceeded available space. To accommodate additonal classes attorneys volunteer to facilitate the mock trial at school sites.
Streeter said many schools return to participate year after year.