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Criminal Justice students get real world experience in mock trial
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Criminal Justice students at Dawson County High School perform a mock trial involving a stolen Corvette on Dec. 12 in the College and Career Academy. The mock trial allowed the students to learn firsthand about the roles inside the courtroom. - photo by Jessica Taylor

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Judge Ben McGinnis presides over his peers in a mock trial conducted by students enrolled in Criminal Justice Essentials, the second level of the Criminal Justice pathway at Dawson County High School. - photo by Jessica Taylor
Judge Ben McGinnis banged the gavel and asked for order in the court after the verdict was read. Defendant Jacob Sheffield was found not guilty of stealing a red 2004 Corvette from the plaintiff, Rylee Edgil.

Then moments later, the bell rang and it was time for courtroom to be dismantled and for its inhabitants to go to their next class of the day.

It was an exciting morning for Criminal Justice teacher Jeff Perry’s students as they suited up in their best courtroom attire on Dec. 12 to conduct a mock trial inside the College and Career Academy.

A semester’s worth of information in the Criminal Justice Essentials course all culminated into mock trials performed by each of Perry’s classes at the end of the fall 2019 semester.

“We learn about all the roles of the court, the different occupations and trying to get them interested,” Perry said. “They choose which part that they want to do based on what they learn over this course.”

The students learned a courtroom is much more than just a judge and jury. There are bailiffs, court reporters, prosecutors, defense attorneys, plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses and clerks.

Perry said he wanted his students to have a mock trial to give them as close to the real world experience possible to help explain the complicated criminal justice system.

“We’ve been practicing for two weeks just trying to get ready for it,” said sophomore Kenna LeBaron who assumed the role of prosecutor. “Every day in class we’ve gone over it. We’ve gone through it, but today was the first time we took the jury outside and they voted on it.”

“It was all leading up to this right here so it was about two and a half weeks when we started with the basic premise and then it ends with the final verdict,” Perry said.

The final verdict wasn’t good news for LeBaron and Kylee Edgil, who played the role of victim in the scripted scenario. The jury ruled in favor of the defense.

“It was coerced,” Edgil said of the verdict.

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District Attorney Kenna LeBaron and plaintiff Rylee Edgil object the jury’s ruling to Criminal Justice teacher Jeff Perry on Dec. 12 during a mock trial performed by his students at Dawson County High School. The jury ruled in favor of the defense during the trial involving a stolen Corvette. - photo by Jessica Taylor

“I was definitely a little upset about it because I think that we definitely proved our point,” LeBaron added.

Though the sophomores were disappointed that they didn’t win their case, being able to get out of the classroom and apply their knowledge in as courtroom setting helped reinforce the work that goes into the careers they have chosen to pursue.

“It’s really cool for the people who are taking this class that see a future career down this pathway,” Edgil said.”For me, I want to go into criminology and further that career pathway.”

LeBaron, who has watched crime shows on TV since she was a little girl, has always wanted to pursue a career as an attorney and reflected on the work she put into her role in the mock trial.

“Having all the information together I think was a big part of it because it’s a lot to know,” LeBaron said. “I mean, you see it on TV and it’s fun, but you don’t realize how much you really have to know when going into it.”

Being a prosecutor is more than preparing opening and closing statements and asking witnesses a few questions. The two and a half weeks project showed LeBaron that there is a lot of preparation that goes into a trial from gathering evidence to finding character witnesses and memorizing facts - usually for multiple cases at one time.

“I love that and it’s definitely something I want to go into,” LeBaron said. “It’s looking at the work that goes into it and just learning that, especially if you want to win cases, you have to put in the effort.”

The hard work paid off as Perry said he was very pleased with how his students handled the mock trial. Next semester during his Criminal Investigations course, Perry plans to hold mock crime scenes to conclude the third and final class of the Criminal Justice pathway at the College and Career Academy. It’s another hands-on experience his students are already looking forward to when the spring semester begins.

“Mr. Perry is one of my favorite teachers. He’s so funny. He’s so much fun to be around,” Edgil said. “It’s really cool to hear his stories and everything because it just inspires me even more.”

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Criminal Justice teacher Jeff Perry’s second level Criminal Justice Essentials class poses after performing a mock trial at the College and Career Academy at Dawson County High School. - photo by Jessica Taylor