College students learn about the justice system through a mock trial

GRAND HAVEN — A group of local college students got a unique insight into the criminal justice system Friday in Grand Haven.

Students from the Corpus Christi Catholic school in the Netherlands took part in a mock murder trial at the 58th district courthouse. They took on the various roles of the legal system as a means of learning and practicing skills.

The project gave students the opportunity to gain experience in public speaking, event analysis, deductive reasoning and critical thinking.

It also gave them insight into how the justice system works, including the different careers in the field. The students called their own witnesses, asked questions and raised objections during testimony.

“This experience (is) exquisite in promoting cooperation and healthy academic competition among students with diverse abilities and interests,” teacher Megan Willems-Koster said in an email. “There’s nothing like hands-on experiences beyond the walls of the classroom to help students learn more about the law, society and themselves.

A witness is sworn in during a mock trial of a Corpus Christi Catholic school student Friday, May 13 in Grand Haven.

Students worked for months to learn the legal system, proper terminology, the roles of different legal careers, and court decorum. They were then each given roles for the case and details to memorize.

Ottawa County Judge Jon Hulsing presided over the case. During jury deliberations, Hulsing walked by and gave each student feedback on how they fared during the trial.

Middle school students from Corpus Christi Catholic School in the Netherlands held a mock trial on Friday, May 13 in Grand Haven.  Judge Jon Hulsing presided over the trial.

He also praised the band as a whole, saying it was one of the best student essays he’s been on.

“I think it’s the best ever,” he said. “I’m always impressed with the work the students do and, honestly, it was fantastic. You were fantastic, really impressive. It restores my faith in the next generation.

Middle school students from Corpus Christi Catholic School in the Netherlands held a mock trial on Friday, May 13 in Grand Haven.  Judge Jon Hulsing presided over the trial.

The hypothetical case centered on the death of a high school student who caught two other people cheating on an exam. The prosecution charged the defendant, one of two students caught cheating, with second-degree murder, with an option for a lesser charge of intentional homicide.

A team of students took on the role of prosecution, while another group served as defense. Two students also served as ushers.

Middle school students from Corpus Christi Catholic School in the Netherlands held a mock trial on Friday, May 13 in Grand Haven.  Judge Jon Hulsing presided over the trial.

A pretrial motion was added to the proceedings this year, with the defense arguing to strike a police interview from the evidence because of the violation of Fifth Amendment rights. Students on both sides cited prior case precedents and legal interpretations in their arguments before Hulsing sided with the prosecution.

“Those memoirs were fantastic,” Hulsing said after the trial. “The documents, the motions, that were presented were so well designed, it was really impressive.”

Middle school students from Corpus Christi Catholic School in the Netherlands held a mock trial on Friday, May 13 in Grand Haven.  Judge Jon Hulsing presided over the trial.

During the trial, both sides called four witnesses, also played by students. Witness roles included a classmate, two doctors, a school dean, a reverend, a policeman, a ranger, and the accused.

After two hours of questioning and about 40 minutes of deliberation, a jury of five adults returned a verdict of not guilty on both counts.

— Contact journalist Mitchell Boatman at mboatman@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @SentinelMitch.