Over 50 students from Squires Elementary School sat in a courtroom at North Las Vegas Justice Court on May 14 as they anxiously awaited the verdict for classmate Fernando, who’d allegedly sprayed another student’s bicycle with paint.
Judge Natalie Tyrrell oversaw the mock trial case, while graduating students Jen Smith and Julio Garcia from the Boyd Law School at UNLV served as prosecutor and defense counsel.
“I wanted them to get a look into the actual criminal justice system,” Smith said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in this justice court in particular, and I’ve seen a lot of young defendants. For a lot of them, it’s their first time and they don’t know what to expect. So there’s the education side and also, students can see if they don’t make the best choices, this is where they could end up.”
The event was part of the Kids in the Court program, designed to teach students the operation of the courts and encourage them to stay in school. Its history goes back 18 years, to when Tyrrell spoke with Carol Lark, principal of the school at the time.
“We had a discussion about her students not really having any goals — no aspirations,” Tyrrell said. “When they were told to write in their journals, they didn’t and I wanted to do something in the community for them. I believe that fifth-graders are at a stage that could honestly make or break them. They’re going to go to middle school next year, and there will be influence from older students. We want them to understand that they need to be their own person and not fall into those influences.”
“I think this is a great way for students to learn about the justice system,” Garcia said. “I think the coolest thing about this career track is that you don’t need an elaborate set of coursework to become a lawyer; anyone can be one, regardless of their background.”
As for Fernando, he was found not guilty at the end of the mock trial.