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Pa. students learn about justice system

Mock trial is 'closer to the real thing than any television show'

Mock trial is 'closer to the real thing than any television show'

May 02, 2008|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- Kim Dixon, 17, might have been on trial in Franklin County (Pa.) Court for assault Friday, but the teenager barely showed any remorse as she smiled at the judge and jury.

Charged with two misdemeanors and one felony for breaking the arm of her classmate, Criss Lyman, Dixon smiled as if confident she would not face jail time.

"If the sun would not have come up this morning, she would have said it was my fault," Dixon said on the stand. "I was sick of it."

One by one, the jury declared Dixon "not guilty," but none of that appeared to matter to Lyman as she sat cradling a broken arm during the verdict.

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After all, the whole trial was completely fake.

Dixon, also known as local attorney Kristen Hamilton, was put on "mock" trial Friday to show Franklin County students how criminal court really works as part of the 50th annual Law Day.

About 150 students filled the courtroom to watch as members of the Young Lawyers Division of the Bar Association held the mock trial of Dixon and Lyman, played by Shana Pugh.

Carolyn Seibert-Drager, the executive director of the Franklin County Bar Association, said for some kids, what they know about the justice system they learned from watching "Law and Order."

"This is not law and order," she said. "It is much closer to the real thing than any television show."

Select students were engaged in the process as jurors, while others watched from the gallery.

Twelve students and five alternate students were selected by their teachers for jury duty, but in a brave move, Judge Douglas Herman called all 17 to consider the case.

"Its not likely we will get a unanimous jury," he warned the lawyers after calling the extra-large jury.

Despite his warning, the jury ruled unanimously in favor of the defendant.

Most jurors were confident in their decision.

Christian Pierson, a senior at Chambersburg Senior High School, said the Commonwealth failed to present enough evidence to convict.

"There had to be at least someone who witnessed the alleged crime, but they did not have one," he said. "That did not make sense to me, so I voted not guilty."

Seibert-Drager said the mock trial was designed to give students a glimpse of the role they might one day be called to fill in the justice system.

"The idea of the rule of law is the basis for our entire system and it is why lawyers do what they do," she said. "We hoped to give the students a glimpse, an idea of why it is important for everyone, especially jurors, to do their part in that system."

For Chelsey Harlan, a student at Shippensburg High School, it did just that.

"I learned so much," she said. "I don't know why, but they picked me as a juror, but I had to serve and it was fun."

Law Day is a national event hosted by local bar associations that was started in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhour.

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