“The court will now come to order,” commanded the judge. Twelve Brumby Elementary School students held notepads in their laps as they sat in the jury box in a courtroom of Cobb County Superior Court. Two Brumby students sat at the prosecutors’ table, and two other students sat poised to defend their classmate against charges of shoplifting.
The Brumby students were participating in Cobb County Superior Court’s “You be the Judge” mock trial designed to introduce elementary students to the legal system.
“It is all interactive,” said Cobb Superior Court Chief Judge Tain Kell, who presided over the mock trial. “We let [the students] do questions and answers with me and the lawyers, the court personnel and the deputies about what they do. They get to participate in every aspect of the trial as well. They play the jurors, lawyers, court reporter, bailiff, every person involved in the trial.”
Although there are other mock trial programs, the Cobb Superior Court program has a distinctive edge over the others.
“One thing I really like about this program is we use the real snippets from the actual case, the way that it works,” Judge Kell added. “The language that the kids [hear] used in the case is exactly what we would use in the real court. We try to make it as realistic as we possibly can in an hour.”
The Brumby students took part in a mock trial based on a theft case Judge Kell presided over in the past. The shoplifting case centered on a man who stole two bicycles and rode them out of a store.
Brumby fifth grader Jaylah, who played defense attorney Tori Truth, learned a lot about the legal process during the trial.
Before the trial, she didn’t know the extent that the lawyers’ arguments played in the court process. Questioning the witness on the stand showed her the amount of questions defense attorneys have to ask to prove their client’s innocence. She also learned that the arguing inside the courtroom carries over into the jury room where jurors debate how to vote.
“I learned when in court you need to be prepared,” said fifth grader Jayden, who played prosecuting attorney Lucy Law. “You need to have your stuff ready so you can prove your point of view.”
Jayden was not happy about the jury’s decision to find the defendant not guilty.
“I was trying to prove the kid who stole the bike was guilty, but instead the jury decided that he was not guilty because of the evidence,” Jayden explained.
Although the jury found her classmate innocent, Jayden may have had reason to still believe in the defendant’s guilt because of what happened after the verdict was read.
“He was accused of stealing coffee from downstairs [in the courthouse],” added Jayden.
Brumby fifth grader Chaiton played the role of the defendant. He acknowledged that the number one thing he learned was “it is not cool to steal.”
Chaiton also learned a lot about the judicial process, which he said is different than what he watches on “Judge Judy.”
“I actually thought the only thing police officers did was arrest people,” explained Chaiton.”
The mock trial showed him the full role police play in the trial process.
“They send the evidence and paper work to the judicial branch,” recounted Chaiton. “They hold the defendant in the holding cell and bring him into [the courtroom.]”
There was one member of the court personnel that some of the students didn’t know existed prior to the mock trial—the bailiff.
They may not have played actual jurors in the mock trial, but more than 100 students sitting in the audience still got to cast their verdict.
“When the jury is out deliberating, we do some questions and answers of the other kids to see what their thoughts are about what the verdict should be and why,” said Judge Kell.
The students’ visit to the courthouse doesn’t end with the mock trial verdict.
“We also show them around the courthouse,” Judge Kell added. “We let them go in the jury room. We let them go into the holding cells for the prisoners, and we also talk about what they just saw in the courtroom after they see the mock trial.”
Seeing the jail cell made some students stop and think about the consequences of going to prison. As the students peered inside the tiny holding cells, the police deputies explained that the prisoners get no privacy and do not have privileges.
Judge Kell started the mock trial program six years ago when his son was in fourth grade. It was such a success for his son’s class that he continued the program.
“At first, I was the only judge that was doing it, but now most of the judges in the Superior Court participate,” Judge Kell explained.
He wants to encourage other jurisdictions across Georgia to start mock trial programs for elementary schools and to use Cobb Superior Court’s “You be the Judge” program as a template.
For elementary schools interested in participating, visit the Superior Court Educational Programs page for more information, including how to schedule a visit.