Tom Trouble was on trial last Thursday in Edgartown district court, and it was up to a group of seventh graders from the Edgartown School to try the case.
Tom’s day in court was the focus of a student mock trial, the culmination of an eight-week enrichment program that gave students exposure to the legal system.
In preparation for court, the team of 13 students was given a fictional case to deliberate. Each student selected his or her role as a lawyer, defense attorney, witness, or the defendant.
This year’s students took up the case of Tom, a 16-year-old charged with trespassing at 1234 Meeting House Way and breaking and entering with the intent to commit felony, among other counts.
After the trial was underway, the prosecution and defense — donning their best business professional attire — took turns calling witnesses to the stand for examination and cross-examination. As witnesses, students portrayed a range of characters from police sergeant to late-night Stop and Shop employee to troublemaking high school sophomore.
Defense attorney Ryan Searle acted as the judge presiding over the case. Ms. Searle played a pivotal role in the mock trial program, attending weekly meetings to help advise the students and explain legalities to them.
Enrichment program coordinator Sue Costello noted that one of the highlights of the program is that it challenges students’ critical thinking skills by asking them to read through a legal scenario and break it down into “what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s fair.” She praised the students’ hard work during the weeks they spent practicing for Thursday’s event.
“I always hope it inspires kids to think about law for the future,” Ms. Costello said. “It also gives everybody a sense of what it’s like to be in the courthouse and makes them realize ‘I don’t ever want to be in this situation unless I’m a lawyer.’ So hopefully it helps them think about choices they can make in their life as well.”
Ms. Costello said she has received largely positive feedback from the students after Thursday’s court session. The mock trial enrichment program will be offered to seventh graders at the Edgartown School again some time next year, depending on when the courthouse and lawyers are available to volunteer time.