ANNAPOLIS – There are some things about the legal system that cannot be learned from watching “Law & Order,” so on Wednesday, Anne Arundel students got a close look at real-life court cases as part of a program designed to deter them from ending up in the defendant’s seat.
The Schools in the Court program, which was started in 2001 by Judge Vincent Mulieri, brought about 100 students from Annapolis, North County and South River high schools to the Anne Arundel County District Court for the three-hour event. The goal is to teach students the value of making positive decisions.
“It’s very important to me to make sure our young people are equipped with all of the tools that they need to be successful,” said Judge Danielle Marie Mosley, who led the event. “And this program is but yet a tool that I can provide a young person so they can be successful.”
Students witnessed actual court proceedings presided over by Mosley and heard talks from health professionals and legal experts, as well as individuals affected by poor decisions they made behind the wheel.
Program coordinators chose cases that relate to the types of poor decisions high school students sometimes make, which included theft and driving under the influence.
When one 19-year-old man pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana, many of the students chuckled. After the young man was sentenced, however, some students’ perspectives on the matter changed rapidly.
“It’s just so random how someone just gets caught for that so suddenly,” said Brian Bitterfeld, 16, who chose to attend the event as part of his criminal justice class at Annapolis High School. “You don’t think something like that would be so serious and then he gets probation for a year – that’s just almost ridiculous.”
Laurel Stiff, from Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center, detailed some of the injuries that result from car accidents, such as whiplash and brain damage, and two Maryland residents gave personal accounts of their time spent in jail and prison after causing fatal car accidents while driving drunk. They stressed the emotional toll that those experiences have had on them.
Taking a different approach to discouraging students from driving under the influence, attorney Mark Chandlee spoke about the financial consequences of being charged with a DUI, including legal fees and insurance fees.
“They have jobs but not enough to spend like $10,000 in court so I thought that was a really good way to get teenagers interested,” said Karla Kavanaugh, a 16-year-old senior from South River High School.
The twice annual Schools in the Courts sessions are a collaboration among the Office of the Public Defender, the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Anne Arundel County Public Schools, the court system and other organizations.
“It’s a labor of love,” said Terry Poisson, coordinator of social studies at Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “This is probably community engagement at its best. The community helping us help our students make the best decision.”