Program to bring real DUI trial to McAfee

February 11, 2009 — by Kevin Mu and Gautham Ganesan

Friday, March 13th will prove to be a lucky day next month for 12 students of the government classes, who will be afforded the rare opportunity to be the jury in the real trial of an accused DUI offender. To make matters even more unusual, attorneys will present their cases not in the courtroom, but in the McAfee Center.

During the trial, 12 student jury members and a 250-300 audience made up of students from the government and health and drivers’ education classes, in addition to the mock trial and speech and debate teams, will witness a Santa Clara County judge make a verdict and pass a sentence on the offender. The 12 jury members will be allowed to discuss the case and confer with the judge in order to help them decide on the verdict; the judge, however, makes the final decision.

Senior Paul Stavropoulos, who is applying to be a jury member for the case, believes the experience will “provide insight” into the inner workings of a DUI trial.

“I’m anticipating [the trial], but I’m not sure what to expect,” Stavropoulos said. “It’s kind of interesting to see what will happen.”

The trial is a part of the “DUI Court in the Schools” program, which is sponsored by Santa Clara County, the Traffic Safe Communities Network (TSCN) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to the NHTSA website, 14 similar trials have taken place in schools all across Santa Clara.

For students, it is an invaluable and interactive educational tool; they will learn about the court system and experience the real pressures and decision-making of being in a jury, as well as the severe penalties of drinking and driving.

“I think it’s a really educational experience,” said sophomore David Mandell, a member of the events commission in charge of organizing the trial. “A lot of people [will] go to a court and witness the consequences that people get for breaking the law, especially for drunk driving, which can often happen at high school.”

The trial also serves as a continuation of the “Every 15 Minutes” program held at SHS last year, a simulated drunk-driving accident held to warn students of the dangers of drinking and driving.

“It’s kind of like ‘[Every] 15 Minutes’, where any education is worth its weight in gold,” said assistant principal Karen Hyde.

Defendants participating in the school trial “waive rights to a jury trial and accept a bench trial” where the judge makes the final verdict instead of the jury. In exchange, defendants’ DUI fines are usually lowered and the sentence reduced because participation is considered “a public service to the student and community,” according to NHTSA’s website.

To select jurors for the trial, the events commission interviewed government students interested in becoming jury members and eventually selected 12.

The trial will not be open to the general public because the main goal of the event is to educate students, said events commissioner Maddy

“I think it’s really exciting,” said Renalds. “It’s great that people who are interested in government or law get to participate in a real trial.”