An innovative U.S. courts program is teaching students about federal sentencing decisions from a unique perspective: the judge’s bench.
A newly released video shows high school students, guided through a simulated court case by a federal judge, deciding an appropriate sentence for a 17-year-old charged with starting a forest fire in a national park.
The presiding judge leads the student judges through a discussion of aggravating and mitigating circumstances that make their sentencing decisions a close call. The roles of the defendant, his parents and high school coach all are played by selected students, while their peers serve as judges responsible for deciding the sentence.
The “You Be the Judge” series of sentencing scenarios has been tested in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with national student groups visiting Washington. The program is available to interested federal courts across the country.
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who is seen in the video presiding over a student hearing, calls the program a “golden opportunity” to educate young people about the legal consequences of bad decisions.