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Students learn law by hand with mock trial

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- They went over their trial notes as they ate lunch.

Some dressed up for the occasion and others were more casual.

But each took his or her role in the mock trial seriously.

More than 100 Albany High School students participated in the Georgia Bar Association's Journey Through Justice program, which visited the school Tuesday. Georgia Bar Association representative Deborah Craytor said the second-year program will visit 140 schools this year, with 20-25 of those on the road. The program will reach approximately 6,000 students.

"The program exists to give a positive first experience with the judicial system," said Craytor, who added that the program is funded through bar dues from state attorneys. "We're hoping to get to the kids before they get in trouble. This exists because kids get a skewed impression because of what they see in the media or (hear) through friends so what we have is a lot of kids that are afraid to talk to a lawyer."

Students in Albany High law and justice instructor Lynn Miller's classes formed the jury, the defense team, witnesses and others during the mock trial. The students read from a 63-page script prepared by the Georgia Bar Association in the fictional fairy tale-inspired "State vs. Jack Bean." The case was against Jack Bean for killing the 16-foot-tall ogre when he cut down his beanstalk, causing the ogre fall to his death. One of the witnesses was Peter Pumpkin Eater.

Craytor was the prosecuting attorney against Bean. Students Suzanne Johnson and Kristen Northam were Bean's defense attorneys. Bean was played by student Rashawn Prince. Dougherty County Sheriff's Office Chief Investigator Capt. Craig Dodd played the judge.

"I like it because it gives me a chance to practice the profession," Johnson said before the mock trial started. "I was a little nervous going over the script that I just got not long ago, but I think I'll be prepared enough to do a good job."

Prince, who also plans to be a lawyer in the future, said he learned the inflexibility of the law through the program.

"I've learned that basically no matter what happens, the law is the law and it doesn't change for any circumstance," Prince said. "It helps to learn about consequences and life situations."

Miller believed the mock trail and other aspects of the daylong Journey Through Justice program helped inform the students of the judicial process. Miller previously worked for three years as police officer for the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office and worked 15 years combined in parole and probation.

"High school students, like most people, learn by doing," Miller said. "The mock trail engages students more than a pencil, paper and book. ... I believe the Georgia Bar Association's Journey Through Justice program is an excellent way to present criminal and civil law lessons, especially with the use of a mock trial where the students are able to participate as attorneys, jurors, defendants and witnesses."

Several members of the school's Law and Justice Advisory Committee also took part in the program. Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul, Albany State University Assistant Chief John Fields, Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards and members of the Albany Parole Office, as

well as representatives of indigent defense, were also present.