The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 29, 2014

High school students visit courtroom

BECKLEY — Students from Shady Spring High School teacher Candace Crouse’s business law class were able to view courtroom proceedings from the polished wooden benches of Raleigh County Circuit Judge John Hutchison’s courtroom Friday as part of a special educational field experience.

Students observed a handful of sentencings over the span of the morning, and Crouse said that allowing students a bird’s-eye view of the criminal justice system will give them a new perspective to take back to her classroom.

“I’ve taken my students on this trip for years,” said Crouse. “We always go to visit the Southern Regional Jail, and then we come to observe sentencings.”

By observing the court proceedings, students are able to play a hypothetical game of jury themselves, further exposing them to the reality of how judges interpret the law, assess evidence and control how hearings unfold.

“The reason we take them to the jail is to observe what that is like ... not only for the kids that want to go into this field, but just to kind of open their eyes to (the fact) there are consequences for actions,” said Crouse.

Students also toured the Raleigh County Judicial Center and talked with Hutchison and other building personnel.

Anthony Watkins, a senior in Crouse’s class, said the experience was much different than he initially imagined.

“I think it’s very reasonable. The judge is a reasonable guy and I realized that it’s a lot more person-to-person,” Watkins said. “He’s an understanding kind of guy.”

Watkins said that the real-life courtroom proceedings were more serious than his classroom’s mock trials, but that those mock trials closely resembled what he saw in the courtroom, minus the bailiff.

Sophomore Jarod Cline echoed Watkins’ sentiments, adding that he didn’t imagine the judge to be as understanding.

“I was thinking he would be much more strict,” said Cline.

Cline said he has aspirations to be a lawyer, and getting to see how the lawyers operated in the courtroom Friday only made him more interested in pursuing law as a career. “I really like this field.”

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com

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