Students experience justice system

Published on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 06:20 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL, arussell@tylerpaper.com

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Sawyer Hayes, a 13-year-old student at the Brook Hill School, pointed at the defendant as the man who entered a federal courthouse with a weapon Monday afternoon.

Prosecuting Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Baldwin asked Hayes to describe what he saw. Hayes testified he saw defendant Sam Sleuth enter the building with a briefcase and put it on the security X-ray scanner belt. His vantage point inside the William M. Steger Federal Building lobby also allowed him to see the scanner’s monitor, which displayed what looked like a pistol inside Sleuth’s briefcase.

“To be honest, he looked a little shady when he walked in,” Hayes said.

Hayes and more than 90 eighth graders from the Brook Hill School and All Saints Episcopal School experienced a lightning-fast glimpse of the U.S. justice system in a mock trial.

U.S. attorneys and assistant attorneys compressed the U.S. legal process, from arrest to grand jury indictment to trial and sentencing, into one hour and 20 minutes as part of a Law Day event.

Sleuth, played by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Wells, entered the federal building’s lobby behind the students who believed they were only taking a tour of the courthouse and learning about some of the legal processes, from jury selection to sentencing.

Instead, students participated in the mock trial.

Students were assigned to the grand jury. They served as jurors. Three were even called to the stand as witnesses.

Sleuth was arrested after entering the federal courthouse with a pistol in his briefcase. He was a licensed private investigator with a prior felony conviction.

He faced two charges, entering a federal building with an unauthorized firearm and possessing the firearm with a felony conviction on his record. Both actions were illegal prosecutor Baldwin said.

But Sleuth had a “high-priced” attorney, played by assistant U.S. attorney Jim Noble, on his side. Noble’s argument was that Sleuth was an upstanding man, a licensed private detective whose pistol was a tool of his trade.

He said Sleuth was practicing his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

But Baldwin fired back that Sleuth should have known he was not allowed to bring the firearm into the federal building and that it was illegal for him to carry a weapon with a felony conviction.

Noble’s attempts to persuade jurors that Sleuth’s felony for receiving imported goldfish from South America didn’t warrant the second charge didn’t work.

Deliberation lasted seconds and a guilty verdict was reached.

U.S. Attorney Ruth Yeager, who organizes the event each year, said it gives students a snapshot of the justice system and the Constitutional protections afforded people arrested for crimes.

“Justice was swift today,” Ms. Yeager said. “The mock trial is a fun way to introduce these students to the justice system, the different processes and people who are involved.”

This was the 21st year area students have participated in the Law Day mock trial. The Smith County Bar Association and the Smith County Bar Foundation organizes the event each year.

Twitter: @newsboyAdam