Students see state’s second-highest court in action

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
On Wednesday afternoon, Jasper High School's auditorium was turned into a courtroom where students, teachers and members of the public could learn more about the the second highest-court in Indiana. Judge Melissa S. May, left, Judge Edward W. Najam, Jr., and Judge Elaine B. Brown took turns asking attorneys Stephen Gerald Gray and Caroline Templeton questions after hearing oral arguments.


JASPER — Many kids are familiar with television shows like “Law & Order” and “Judge Judy,” but students at Jasper High School had a chance to sit in on a court hearing much closer to home Wednesday afternoon.

The school’s auditorium transformed into a real-life court room where attorneys operating with the traveling Appeals on Wheels program debated and a panel of actual judges presided over the court. The event was not faux in any way, as the traveling oral argument revolved around a real case and was conducted just like oral arguments are in the Indiana Court of Appeals’ Statehouse courtroom.

Students — around 400 attended — said the experience was valuable because it gave them a unique look at how the judicial system operates that isn’t in their government textbooks.

“We talk about it in class, and then bringing it to a real-life situation ... what we talk about all pertains to what we just saw,” said Lydia Shepherd, a senior.

Classmate Caroline Theil added: “I thought it was cool, too, how it was a legitimate court case. It wasn’t a mock trial or mock case. They were actually able to use a real situation, real lawyers, and everything like that.”

Jasper senior Jacob Barry listened to the judges talk about what the Court of Appeals of Indiana does witt the cases they hear.

All Jasper seniors were invited to the event, as were underclassmen whose teachers made a case for them to be there. Area judges and attorneys also attended the event. Former Dubois Superior Court judge Elaine Brown was one of three judges who presided over the court.

The oral argument focused on the charging of an Indianapolis man with level 6 felony possession of a narcotic drug and a Class A misdemeanor for possession of marijuana. The defendant’s lawyer — the defendant was not in attendance — argued that the arresting officers did not have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and illegally detained him by blocking in his vehicle and detaining his passengers while checking for warrants.

After charged, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence, and the Marion Superior Court denied that motion. The defendant’s appeal of that denial is what took place on Wednesday.

The details of the case were discussed pointedly during the 45-minute session as each side fought to explain why they were in the right. According to a brochure passed out at the event, after Wednesday’s oral argument, the judges will now confer to decide the outcome. No rules or laws govern how quickly the court issues its opinion, but the court aims to decide cases within four months of receiving all briefs, transcripts and other records, according to the brochure.

Deputy Attorney General Caroline G. Templeton answered questions from Judge Melissa S. May, Judge Edward W. Najam, Jr., and Judge Elaine B. Brown while giving her oral arguments. This argument marks the Court’s 18th Appeals on Wheels event this year.

“It’s nothing like ‘Law &Order,’” senior Adeline Bueltel said with a laugh after the session ended. The panel of judges shared their backgrounds and fielded audience questions for about 20 minutes following the appeal.

Jarrod Land, the school’s government teacher, said the event shined a light on the judicial system — the branch of the government that is most out of the public eye.

“We always hear about the president,” Land said. “We see Congress. But how often do we see the courts?”

Land said he’ll ask students to name a supreme court justice, and they rarely can.

“And that’s the third branch of government,” he said. “They interpret our laws and we don’t know much about it.”

The Indiana Court of Appeals is the second-highest court in the state — beneath only the Indiana Supreme Court — and the court’s 15 members issue approximately 2,000 written opinions each year.

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