Steubenville High School students participate in mock trial, prepare for competition
STEUBENVILLE — Students from Steubenville High School got to experience the legal system first hand on Wednesday.
The group of students, under the direction of trial team coach Cherie Metcalf, held a mock trial in the court room normally used by Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge Michelle Miller. The students were divided into the defense and prosecution and made arguments against one another.
The students are preparing to compete in the 38th annual Ohio High School Mock Trial Competition on Jan. 23. Due to COVID-19, the competition trial will be held via video conference this year, but Metcalf wanted the students to experience the courtroom. The mock trial Wednesday was a practice run for the students.
“They’re learning their rights and responsibilities as citizens and it is rewarding to see students move on and study law and become attorneys,” Metcalf, who has been coaching the mock trial team for more than 20 years, said.
“The students learn to listen well, react and take notes. It teaches them to be critical thinkers.”
The students are not yet sure who their competition will be in the opening round on Jan. 23. Big Red’s defense team will square off against the prosecution from their competitor and the Big Red prosecution against the competitor’s defense.
The competition will be decided by a panel of three judges and, in order to move on, both teams from the same school must prevail.
While Miller was not in attendance, Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin presided over the practice proceeding and offered the students her feedback.
She was encouraged to see the youth interested in learning about the legal system.
“It just makes my heart happy,” Hanlin said. “I would love see more and more young people going into law. There is such a need for good lawyers and good advocates right now. Whether they are arguing on behalf of the state or behalf of the defendants, the whole system doesn’t work unless there are good lawyers on each side.
“These students are learning great public speaking skills, great advocacy skills, and, whether they are going onto to law school or not, they are going to know how to make an argument and persuade people that what they’re arguing is correct.”
The students interest and knowledge displayed during the mock proceeding impressed the veteran prosecutor.
“They are very well informed. They will e-mail questions and their e-mail questions are very good and very thoughtful,” Hanlin said. “They have spent countless hours going through these statements and picking out little parts of the argument that support their position one way or the other. That’s not an easy thing for young people to do.
“These kids are the type of kids that are always involved in lots of extracurricular activities, and they have spent hundreds of hours getting ready for this competition, so I could not be prouder.”
For the students, getting feedback from a prosecutor and experiencing the events in the courtroom was a welcome experience.
“It was such a great experience to be able to run through it in an actual courtroom,” said Olivia Reese, who was one of the defense attorneys and said she is considering studying law. “It was absolutely amazing to get (Hanlin’s) feedback. She gives such great advice and it was really awesome hearing what she had to say.
“Mrs. Metcalf is amazing, I’m so thankful for her and doing all this for us. This mock trial is such a great experience.”
Kiera O’Brien, who played the part of a witness, is interested in following her parents footsteps as attorneys.
“I think it’s a good experience to get to do this in the courtroom,” she said. “I want to be a lawyer when I’m older, so I think this experience is helping me. It was good to hear what (Hanlin) had to say, it helps a lot.”
The case portrayed in the 2021 trial is a motion to dismiss a plea agreement in a murder case based on the recanting of a statement by a witness.
Wednesday’s practice trial lasted for nearly two hours with approximately 20 minutes of detailed feedback from Hanlin for the students.
Reese and Abigail Gilman portrayed defense attorneys while their witnesses were Gabriella Carrocci, Gracie Jackson and O’Brien.
Emma Chancio and Lindsay Busby portrayed the prosecution, with their witnesses being Alexandria Miller and Hannah Winkler. Kristen DiMarzio portrayed the bailiff and timekeeper.