OMMS students participate in mock trial

The witnesses read their testimony from a script, the defense attorney was 13 and none of the jurors were old enough to drive, much less vote; but the message of a mock trial presented by and for Oak Mountain middle

schoolers last week was as real as it gets.

&uot;I thought it was going to be like a play or something, but it was very real,&uot; said seventh-grader Leslie Jennings, still wide-eyed from the

lecture she received from Shelby County Juvenile Judge Patti Smith as part of her &uot;sentence.&uot;

Smith was just one of the many county officials participating in the mock trial held at the Shelby County Courthouse, among them Circuit Court Judge Michael Joiner, Assistant District Attorney Jill Lee, County Manager Alex Dudchock and Commissioner Lindsey Allison.

Allison said school officials initially approached her with the idea of a mock trial to serve as a lesson on how the court system worked as part of the seventh-grade civics curriculum.

&uot;That was the objective in the beginning. But what has happened as we go along is we’ve realized they needed to see the reality of it all,&uot; she said.

Barry Woodham of the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office wrote the script for the trial, creating the scenario of a Halloween party where a teen trades her mother’s prescription antidepressants for a more potent drug that lands her in the emergency room.

Smith said the setup likely was all too real for many of the students, who even as young as 12 have been faced with similar situations.

She said the difference this time, however, was the students were able to literally see the consequences of their choices &045; all the way down to the bright orange uniforms they would be forced to wear in the juvenile detention facility, which they toured after they left the courtroom.

&uot;Any time you can take them out of their comfort level and expose them to the reality of a situation, it sticks with them longer,&uot; Smith said.

Dudchock, who manages the Shelby County Juvenile Correction Facility, warned the students that even the smallest choices impact their future.

He told the story of an inmate who began his crime career by smoking marijuana with friends at a high school football game.

Now, he is serving time for armed robbery.

&uot;From that one simple thing at a football game, before he knew it, it all tumbled down around him,&uot; Dudchock said.

Dudchock said at least 10 percent of seventh-graders are at risk of being convicted of a crime related to drugs or alcohol.

He pleaded with the students not to be part of that statistic.

&uot;That leaves 90 percent of you who can step forward and be a leader. You don’t have to be a vocal leader; you can lead by example,&uot; he said