The group of people who deemed “John Doe” guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol was not the typical jury. Doe’s fate was decided by eighth-graders.
Students from Highland Middle School and Metro East Montessori School participated in a mock DUI trial at the Madison County Courthouse in Edwardsville on April 28 as part of the annual Law Day.
“It’s a big day of eduction, both in terms of civics and in terms of civic responsibility,” Highland Middle School history teacher Chris Hartlieb said.
According to Hartlieb, who coordinates Law Day, for the last 26 years, the school has been participating in a “Respect for Law” program, where kids learn first-hand what it is like to be a part of the legal system.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
“It’s to instill a respect for law, and it’s also to gain an understanding of how the process works in a court room,” Hartlieb said.
The program is sponsored by the Highland Optimist Club and allows students a hands-on experience with the legal system by letting them participate in a DUI mock trial, complete with real witnesses, defendant, judge, court reporter, attorneys and jury. Then, after the trial, students spend the rest of their day listening to law-related presenters.
“This is to teach the students the ‘ins and outs’ about what might happen to you should you make the unfortunate decision to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, particularly, as an underage person.” Hartlieb said.
There were two mock trials held in different court rooms. In the largest room, Chief Circuit Judge David Hylla presided over the trial.
“I think it is one of the most pleasurable things we do as judges,” Hylla said. “I wish we could figure out a way to have more schools bring kids up here.”
Hylla has been participating in the program for about 10 years, and this year was special for him, because his daughter got to attend from the Montessori School. Hylla hopes that the program will continue to expand and that other schools will take the initiative to pursue participating in a mock trial.
“I think these mock trials are good, positive, exposure, positive for these young people,” Hylla said. “So they can see a little glimpse of how we work toward getting justice everyday.”
Hylla was not the only actor participating in the trial. Highland High School student Kyle Lane played the defendant, John Doe.
Highland Police Department Officer Ken McCoy played one of the witnesses. His role was to play the policeman who pulled the defendant over.
The other witness, who testified on the defendant’s behalf, was Highland High School student Lauren Baer. Baer played Doe’s girlfriend and testified that he was sober at the time when he was pulled over.
Doe was represented by real-life attorney Jeremy Sackett of the firm Swanson and Sackett PC. Chrystal Uhe from the state’s attorney office was the prosecutor.
When they were in eighth grade, Sackett and Uhe had the privilege of attending the same mock trial. They both said that the program was their first look into the legal system and was something that helped initially push them their career paths.
“It was really our first glance at the criminal justice system and clearly both Jeremy and I have now made careers following up with prosecution and defense work,” Uhe said.
While their were a few giggles to be had during the trial — especially when Doe blamed his DUI on his alcoholic girlfriend played by Baer — the trial displayed no embellishments similar to how court systems appear on television. The trial was meant to seem as realistic as possible, because, according to Judge Hylla, a DUI is clearly no laughing matter.
“There was a lot of laughing, but in a real trial, there would be no joking,” Hylla said.
Hylla explained to the students that a DUI, especially a DUI received by a minor, “very big mistake.” The students learned that a DUI could cost anyone from $5,000 to $10,000, require a year’s worth of court supervision and alcohol classes, not to mention a potential revocation of a driver’s license.
Highland Middle School student Clayton Mallard was one of the onlookers who thought the defendant was innocent.
“I thought it was a great trial,” Mallard said. “It really showed me ... what it would be like, and I felt that the guy was not guilty, but it turned out to be wrong.”
HMS student Brianna Ripperda agreed with the jury.
“I would say like that the trial was interesting,” Ripperda said. “I would definitely say that the defendant was guilty, because there were alcoholic beverages, like the cans, in the car.”
Though opinions over the case verdict differed, the students still agreed that the trial great experience.
“It was a really good trial, and it was a pretty fun day,” HMS student Zach Ramsey said.