Fifth graders split in verdict of mock petit theft case
By John M. Ayers
Bell Middle School fifth grade students went to school Friday morning as they visited Judge Ed Philman’s courtroom in Gilchrist County to participate in a Mock Trial program. This is an educational experience that Judge Philman gives the students an opportunity to learn how the judicial process is conducted. The Gilchrist County Judges offices invites the fifth graders from Bell and Trenton middle schools into his courtroom each year to receive a first hand experience of the judicial process.
Judge Philman welcomed the Bell Middle School students, teachers and parents as they filled the audience seating to capacity in one of the Gilchrist County Judicial courtrooms.
These Bell fifth graders were involved in a mock trial last week and assisted the Gilchrist County officials pictured. Standing front left, Jasmyne Moore, McKenzie Martin, Morgan Martin, Jordan McLeod, Philip Valvo, Alex Moore, Kenny Freeman, Pharma Sandvik, Lane Ordway, and Morgan Rose. Second row, Austin Spears, Noah Moore, Madison Holder, Madison Hill, Bryan Mayo, Jaycee Thomas, Brooke Davis, Jarrett Douglas, Brittany Moses and Molly Falk. Standing back row, Deputy Thomas Tucker, Lyndsay Ayers, Deputy Clerk, Barbie Martin, Deputy Clerk, Bobby Brito and Janie Reed, Prosecuting Counsel, Juliette Dillon and Larana Wingate, defendant’s counsel, Deputy Thomas Scott and Judge Ed Philman.
The students participated in a mock trial involving a student being tried for petit theft at Dollar General Store.
The judge had the individual names of the students in a box and he drew the names from the box for the students to be assigned to the positions in the court. The judge selected sixteen students for jury duty and students to assist the judge, the bailiff, and the clerk of court. Judge Philman also identified a student as the defendant that was being tried for petit theft of a necklace. The student was represented by Larana Wingate and Juliette Dillon, eleventh grade students in the Bell High School Criminal Justice Academy. The defendant was being prosecuted by the State Attorneys Office represented by Bobby Brito and Janie Reed, juniors in the Criminal Justice Academy.
The trial began as witnesses were sworn in and questioned by the two counsel teams. After the counsels presented their closing arguments the sixteen students seated as jurors were counseled on their duties to the court. Judge Philman explained the first and second row of students seated in the jury box would be split up as Jury 1 and Jury 2. The juries would be dismissed into chambers to discuss the case and return a verdict. Judge Philman explained the important job that the jurors were tasked with and that they must be unanimous in the return of their verdict. As the jury was deliberating the case, Judge Philman took the time to address the students and answer their questions involving the judicial process.
The jury had been out for not more than ten minutes when they returned to the courtroom. The defendant and his counsel were asked to stand as Judge Philman and Assistant Judge McKenzie Martin reviewed the jury report before handing it to Deputy Clerk Barbie Martin and her assistant Jaycee Thomas. Mrs. Martin instructed the assistant clerk to read the verdict from Jury #1. Jury #1 finds the defendant guilty as charged. The assistant clerk then announced the verdict from Jury #2. Jury #2 finds the defendant not guilty of petit theft. Judge Philman sentenced the defendant to remain in his teachers’ custody the entire school day on Friday.
The students were given a tour of the holding cells along with other court facilities which keep inmates in custody while they are waiting to appear in court.