PROVIDENCE – In record time, a jury sitting in federal court in Providence returned a verdict for the plaintiff, finding that a school principal violated her 4th Amendment rights. The student, suspended for damaging school property, was punished based on information the principal discovered while searching her electronic devices during an unrelated investigation. The student claimed that the search was unreasonable, and unconstitutional.
While this true-to-life scenario could have been argued by skilled attorneys in a federal courtroom anywhere in the country, this jury verdict was the crowning event of the inaugural Rhode Island session of Discovering Justice: a four-month long civics education program undertaken by nine eighth grade students from Providence’s Nathan Bishop Middle School.
The program, hosted by the United States Attorney’s Office, and staffed by volunteer federal prosecutors and office staff, delved into the workings of the judicial system and explored the ideals of justice. The class focused on legal and constitutional issues, with students each taking on the role of plaintiff, defendant, and witnesses during trial preparations. The program culminated with a mock trial held in federal court, presided over by the Honorable O. Rogeriee Thompson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Students authored and delivered opening statements; examined and cross-examined witnesses (made up of volunteers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office staff); and prepared and delivered closing arguments to a volunteer jury.
On Thursday, United States Attorney Zachary Cunha met with each of the students and their teacher to congratulate them on their performance and dedication, providing each with a Department of Justice Certificate of Congratulations and photos taken during the trial.
“These students did an amazing job, not just as advocates, but as engaged, passionate participants in learning about our legal system and how it works,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha. “Civics programs like Discovering Justice are an important way of engaging the kids who will be tomorrow’s judges, lawyers, and jurors, and show them that we all have a role to play to make our justice system fair, effective, and evenhanded. I’m thrilled that we were able to partner with Discovering Justice to make this happen here in Rhode Island.”
Discovering Justice is a Boston-based, non-profit organization, with more than two dozen programs currently in progress in Massachusetts. Nathan Bishop Middle School became the first Rhode Island school to participate in the program.
United States Attorney Cunha thanks United States District Court Chief Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., Clerk of Court Hanorah Tyer-Witek, and the staff of the U.S. District Court for hosting the mock trial; the teachers and staff of Nathan Bishop Middle School for their assistance during the eleven-week program; and the prosecutors and staff of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their volunteer efforts.