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The witnesses had been called; the evidence, presented. Prosecution and defense had submitted their arguments. And after a tense 10 minutes, the jury came back with a verdict of “not guilty.” But unlike most criminal trials, the courtroom erupted in pandemonium. And unlike most defense counsel, Rashan Prailow rose from his seat at the defense table and began doing a celebratory dance. Judge David Mapp did not call for order — presumably because the principals involved were fifth graders at Davis Elementary School in Camden, N.J. After the judge polled the jury members to ensure the unanimity of their verdict, Prailow described the strategy that won an acquittal for his client and offered this advice to other attorneys: “You have to speak out loud and make sure you remember the facts.” On May 24, the Camden County Bar Foundation hosted its seventh annual mock trial as a culmination of the year-long activities in its Adopt-a-School Program. Each month during the school year, the 110 students in all five of the school’s fifth-grade classes learned a new aspect of the legal system during assemblies or field trips. The teachers incorporated the activities with the traditional social studies curriculum to promote understanding of the three branches of government, with emphasis on the legislative branch. “The goal of the mock trial is to get kids thinking on their feet,” said Gary W. Boguski, a Mount Laurel, N.J. attorney who led and organized the event. “Instead of just memorizing, we want them to analyze the facts and give them the confidence to come up with arguments.” ENERGY AND EARNESTNESS The prosecution team of Denise Rodriguez and Sade Tilghman were dressed for the occasion in skirts and blouses while the Prailow and Louis Cosme defense team wore khakis, button-down shirts and power ties. During the mock trial, students acted as lawyers, witnesses, jurors and other courtroom players, while real-life judges and lawyers took the bench. The “facts” in the 2000 Mock Trial posited that Tony Jones was riding his bike in the park and left it unlocked and unattended to buy a soft drink. When he returned, he discovered his bike had been stolen. A week later, while visiting a relative nearby, Tony saw Roberta Simone riding his bike and called the police. When questioned, Simone told them that she bought the bike for $10 two days previously from a boy who said he was moving out of the area. A friend of Roberta’s corroborated this fact, but she was arrested anyway. The prosecution asserted that Simone must have known that the bike, valued at $200, would never be sold for a mere $10. Simone was charged with receiving stolen property. The teams admirably achieved the difficult balance of making their presentations as realistic as possible and at the same time adapting them to accommodate the audience of their peers and teachers. In one instance, however, Denise Rodriguez presented a receipt for the bicycle purchase and rather than showing it to the witness on the stand, she held it up so that the onlookers could see it, but the witness could not. After a hushed prompt from the bench to “approach the witness,” Rodriguez recovered and realized that in order to identify the document, the witness had to see it as well. Things got tense as the defense presented Roberta Simone’s “father” as a character witness. The prosecution cross-examined the witness during which she asked if Simone had ever been in a fight at school. “Objection!” Prailow exclaimed as he sprung out of his chair. A stern-looking Judge Mapp looked over and asked, “What grounds?” Without missing a beat, Prailow blurted: “Beyond the scope.” “This is a cross-examination so I’ll allow it,” replied the judge, overruling him. After presentation of the evidence was completed, it was time for closing arguments. Prailow deferred to second-chair Louis Cosme. As the 10-year-old approached the jurors, he slipped his hand into his pants pocket and thoughtfully paced back and forth in front of the jury box while speaking. Cosme brought home to the jurors the evidence favoring his client: that the bike was muddy and had two flat tires. It was in such bad shape that Simone had to walk the bike home. Cosme argued it was reasonable for Simone to think the bike was worth $10. According to Cosme, the prosecution team failed to meet the criteria for a conviction. He urged the jurors to acquit his client. The judge then gave the jury instructions. As described in the New Jersey Crimes Code, the presumption shifts in favor of the prosecution where: the defendant had more than one stolen item in her possession; the defendant had been previously convicted of receiving stolen goods; the stolen item had been defaced in order to obscure its serial number; or the defendant engaged in the business of fencing stolen goods. The verdict was the subject of heated debate in the Camden classroom-turned-courtroom even while the jury was out deliberating. Many felt the state had failed to meet its burden of proof in any of the four elements which Judge Mapp had given in his instructions to the jury. A LEARNING EXPERIENCE Boguski saw the 2000 mock trial process through — from providing the students with the fact pattern two months ago to arranging the pizza party at the conclusion of the proceedings. The Mount Laurel, N.J., attorney is active in many events which benefit the youth of Camden County. Boguski elicited the help of numerous attorneys who acted as coaches before and during the event, as well as Judge Anne McDonnell of the Superior Court of New Jersey who presided over one of the classroom trials. With the help of their coaches, the students composed their own opening and closing arguments as well as questions for direct- and cross-examination. David Rammler, an attorney for Camden Regional Legal Services, spent a few hours a week over the past two months explaining to the students the difference between opening and closing arguments, presumption of innocence, presentation of evidence, the burden of proof and the dynamics of juries. The prosecution team of Sade Tilghman and Denise Rodriguez said they had fun presenting their side of the argument but conceded the state had the more difficult job because it had the burden of proof whereas the defense only had to raise a reasonable doubt. Mapp, an attorney in the firm of Harvey C. Johnson in Camden, acted as trial judge for Esther Gross’s fifth grade class. Mapp has participated in several mock trials though none at this grade level. He said he thought the children did a nice job when faced with a difficult task. “The law in this case asked them to look into somebody’s mind and determine what they were thinking,” Mapp said. “It also gave them a chance to see how a prosecutor and defense attorney can present different views with the testimony of one witness.” Boguski himself was surprised that the student juries acquitted in four out of five classrooms. He designed the problem with a guilty verdict in mind but when he polled the jurors afterwards, he acknowledged that they all had valid points. He said they had picked up on nuances that he had not foreseen. It is one of many rewards, he said, for the work he does in conjunction with the bar foundation on behalf of the students. “Our goal is to present kids with the idea that anything is possible,” Boguski said. We tell them to aim high and stay in school, and if we encourage even a few of them, we’ve done our job.”

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