Saturday, May 5, 2001
Teens gain experience at bar in mock trial
By PAUL NUTCHER
NEWS-JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
DAYTONA BEACH — From crime scene to verdict.
Pupils from four counties argued and objected all day long during a mock trial competition Friday at the Courthouse Annex on City Island. It was the third competition hosted by Volusia County's Teen Court program and coincided with national Law Week.
Most of the youths learned jurisprudence from participating in cases before the Teen Court programs in their respective counties. Teen Courts allow minors charged with a nonviolent offense to face a panel of their peers for sentencing and avoid juvenile court.
Friday's gavel-to-gavel experience helped some students make up their minds to pursue a legal career, while others learned they want to be something altogether different when they grow up.
Peter White, 15, of Daytona Beach, represented Father Lopez High School and is a member of the Volusia County Teen Court. He wants to be a defense attorney.
"I believe a lot of people get charged unjustly," said White.
Ashley Finney, 13, of Palm Coast, represented Buddy Taylor Middle School and has served on the Flagler County Teen Court. She wants to be a social worker even though she finds law interesting. "I want to help kids that don't have parents," Finney said. "I feel bad for them." School districts in Clay, Flagler, Lake and Volusia counties each fielded a 12-member team with three attorneys and witnesses for the defense, and three attorneys and witnesses for the prosecution.
The Port Orange Police Explorers provided court security and acted as bailiffs.
Adult judges in each courtroom scored contestants from one to 10 based on their performance during the mock trial. The judges were volunteers from the State Attorney's Office staff, the state Attorney General's Office, Volusia County Sheriff's Office, Seminole County Community College and private attorneys.
Circuit judges Robert Rouse of Volusia County and McCarthy Crenshaw of Clay County presided over the final afternoon sessions.
The pretend case involved a man in his 40s charged with child abuse after police arrested a boy for drunken driving who said the man served him alcoholic beverages at a party.
Prosecutors and witnesses tried to convince a jury that the man committed child abuse by allowing the 17-year-old victim to drive from the party with a blood alcohol level of nearly three times the legal limit.
The man was found not guilty during five of the six trials. On the Volusia County team, Erin Keesecker won best morning session attorney and best overall attorney, and Michael Bryant received the prize for best morning session witness.
For Flagler County, Sandra Goodwin took best morning session attorney award.
Lake County took home the trophy for best overall team.
Volusia County Teen Court's senior coordinator Shirley Santillana called the competition spirited.
"They learn so much by researching the case they're working on," said Santillana, noting the youths also learned how to behave in court while mixing with the judges and lawyers who volunteered.