Students learn about courts in their own deliberations

WILLMAR -- The defendant, Emily, 20, was in a bar with friends, with a beer bottle on the table and an amber-colored liquid in the glass in front of her.

WILLMAR -- The defendant, Emily, 20, was in a bar with friends, with a beer bottle on the table and an amber-colored liquid in the glass in front of her.

A uniformed police officer bent over her and demanded to see her identification. She produced a fake ID, something the officer spotted immediately.

Emily was charged with two misdemeanors -- underage drinking and having false identification. She also faced a gross misdemeanor charge, a more serious offense, because she presented the false identification to a peace officer.

Did Emily feel "seized" by the police officer and compelled to give him her ID? Did the officer have a reason to single her out in a bar full of young people?

Yes to the first question, and no to the second, Willmar Senior High students decided Wednesday morning. Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Paul Anderson led social studies students through a hands-on exercise of how the courts work.


Anderson and the students laughed and bantered back and forth in the school's theater as he led them through a short discussion of the "dead white guys" who helped shape our current judicial system.

In the case of Emily, the defendant was a student from the audience, but the case Anderson presented was a real one, involving a Mankato college student.

The case is a good one to use in high schools, he said after the class, because it involves a young defendant and an issue students may find relevant.

A prosecutor and defense lawyer joined the defendant on stage. Then Anderson chose a girl from the audience to be the district court judge.

He began to explain the case and then stopped.

"Do we have women judges?" he asked the students. "Well, yeah," came the answer from the front row.

"Why?" Anderson asked. Students suggested that women see things differently.

Anderson agreed, and he said he's seen the judiciary benefit as more women and minorities have joined it.


He and Associate Justice Alan Page, a former professional football player, are about the same age, but they have different backgrounds, Anderson said.

Page gets stopped by police once in a while for "DWB," which a student correctly pegged as "driving while black."

Anderson asked if there were students in the theater who had been stopped for "driving while black, or brown?" A few nodded.

"I'm reasonably certain that's never going to happen to me," Anderson said. "It's important to have people with different experiences."

Anderson led the students through the case. The defense asked to have the false ID excluded from the case, because the officer asked for it improperly. The prosecution argued that she handed it over willingly, but didn't spell out the officer's reasons for singling her out.

The trial judge decided that she had gave the officer her ID voluntarily, and found her guilty of the charges.

The case was appealed. Three volunteers came up on the state to serve as the Court of Appeals. After hearing the same arguments, they went off to the side to deliberate while Anderson corralled seven more volunteers to serve as the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeals sided with the defendant on a 2-to-1 vote. The student Supreme Court sided with the defendant on a 6-to-1 vote.


The actual Supreme Court reached that conclusion, on a unanimous vote, Anderson said.

"It is a very, very close call," he said, adding that some people may feel the defendant got off on a technicality.

However, "the constitutional principle is more important," Anderson said. "What the Supreme Court is saying is, 'Officer, you have to follow the law.'"

Students in the class seemed to enjoy the exercise. Those who had been part of the decisions expressed some mixed feelings about the decisions.

"I learned that it's really hard to make a decision," said DeAnn Boersma, a sophomore from Willmar. "It was a pretty cool experience."

For Brielle Barrett, a junior from Willmar, "it was hard to balance out what you believe and have a heart, too."

LuLu Bretado, a sophomore from Willmar, said students had two things to think about in their decisions, she said. "What she did was wrong, but what the cop did was wrong, too."

Estella Vallejo, a sophomore from Willmar, agreed that it was hard to choose when they were deliberating.


Anderson spoke with some of the students before they left, telling them, "You guys were great."

Jose Lozano thanked Anderson for coming and "getting us out of class." He learned a lot, said the senior from Willmar, but he was able to do it without taking notes or having homework.

"It was fun," he said.

Anderson said he meets with students about once a week during the school year. Since he was coming to Willmar to speak to the Noon Lions anyway, he said, he decided to make a day of it.

When he was young, he noticed adults who spent time with young people and who gave something back to their communities, he said. He promised himself he would do the same someday.

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