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Students get court lesson in mock court session
Students at Gila Ridge High School got a tough lesson in the consequences of drug use and possession on Wednesday morning, thanks to a program that offers teens a chance to learn about how the decisions they make can affect their lives and lead to having a criminal record.
“Right now our teens at Gila Ridge High School, Yuma High School, Cibola High School, Kofa High School, San Luis High School, and Yuma Catholic High School are socializing or somehow coming into contact with other peers, and many will be offered marijuana, spice and/or other drugs,” said Yuma County Superior Court Judge Maria Elena Cruz. “Through these presentations, the Yuma County Superior Court and its related agencies try to reach out to our youth, before they fall victim to drug use, which will eventually bring them to the courts.”
A mock sentencing, themed “Marijuana and Spice, After the Party,” of three teens who were arrested for using drugs at a party, was conducted in the Gila Ridge High School's auditorium as a gallery of several hundred staff and students saw what could happen if they chose to do drugs.
While the scenario was fictitious – a make-believe case for the mock sentencing – the possibilities it portrayed were very real. The three teens, played by student volunteers, were led on to the stage wearing orange jail clothes, and shackled at the wrist and ankles, by a real-life juvenile detention officers.
The mock sentencing, although held on a stage in an auditorium, mirrored what would actually happen had the proceedings been held inside a courtroom instead, with the judge listening to arguments of the prosecution and defense, probation office and parents before imposing the appropriate sentence.
“It is sad to see someone who has made good choices throughout, a good kid, all of the sudden make a bad choice, either because they were misinformed of what could happen to them, or they had no information at all,” Cruz said. “They have never thought about it before, then somebody springs something on them and here they are making decisions that are going to affect them later.”
For the purpose of the scenario, each of the juveniles had varying levels of contact with juvenile courts. One of the teen offenders had no record, but was in possession of the drugs. A second had a record, but had only used drugs at the party. The third volunteer played the role of a teen offender who not only did drugs at the party, but also had a lengthy juvenile record. Each was given pretend sentences based on their record, with one even being sentenced to the Department of Juvenile Corrections.
“It is also sad when they are standing in front of me and I'm giving them information for the first time,” Cruz added. “It is different when you know the possible consequences and still choose to engage in that conduct anyway.”
A second goal of the program, Cruz said, is to expose students to the legal field in the hope that they might be interested enough to pursue a career in the profession.
The mock sentencing was a cooperative effort by the Yuma County Superior and Juvenile Courts, Yuma County Attorney's Office, Yuma County Public Defender's Office, the local defense bar, and the Yuma County Anti-Drug Coalition
This is the second year in a row the courts and its related agencies have held a mock sentencing. Last year, they held one at San Luis High School, featuring the topic of drug importation by minors, and the sentencing of a “convicted drug smuggler.”
The “Mock Sentencing” presentation went over so well and had such a positive response that the agencies involved vowed to return in subsequent years to different schools in the community.
After the Wednesday morning presentation, Cruz and the other participants addressed the audience within a short question and answer session, which also included information regarding the possible consequences of a marijuana conviction.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854.