We began our trip to the District Attorney’s Office with sight-seeing and shying away from the camera, which is a total shocker because not once did it occur to me that our wonderful, outspoken students were at all camera-shy.
But they are only camera-shy. Once we got there and sat through our first trial, their curiosity shined through as they started to lean in and ask questions.
I suppose we aren’t allowed to discuss what was said during a trial, but just to give you an idea, this trial in particular was about check forgery. It was a pleasure to see our group of kids sitting as quietly as I’ve never seen them before, especially when given very specific instructions to do so. A huge part of this trip, I think, was taking what they’ve gained from NYMA and applying it to the outside world. This includes following directions, showing each other respect, paying attention to detail, and tapping into his or her own curiosity–which they totally did. Besides this, a trip to the DA’s office showed them the importance of knowing their rights and being knowledgeable on the Criminal Justice process itself, and they were all VERY interested.
After the trial, students had an opportunity to ask the Judge questions. One wanted to know more about the process of sentencing. How do you determine a sentence? The Judge stated that he cannot pull a sentence out of thin air, he has to follow rules and guidelines given to him, and then he must take the whole being into consideration, which includes his/her history and role in said crime. He continued by saying “it’s not the length of the sentence but the fairness of it that matters to me most.” Others asked questions specifically about the trial itself, about the Judge’s team, and then we moved on to the conference room.
A presentation was given to us by the lovely Assistant District Attorney, Ayanna Sorett. Through the example of a robbery, she talked at length about the Criminal Justice system and its process. The sorts of questions that our group asked really impressed all adults that were present. The kids wanted to know a lot on the subject of defense. What if someone were to cause my mother harm and I defended her? What if a robbery took place in the home and you shot the robber in defense? This led to a discussion on gun ownership. Another kid asked about gang indictments. There were concerns about being next to those committing a crime. Another student wanted to know when a lie detector is used. Laughing, she responded by saying “we are the lie detectors. All that other stuff is television!” Last but not least, a student asked a question that I, myself, needed to know: is there a penalty for waving jury duty? Yes, folks.
Much gratitude to Famod Konneh, Senior Specialized Coordinator for making this happen, and to ADA Ayanna Sorett for shining a light on the process!