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Chris Clewis
Officer Chris Clewis of the Highland Police Department reads from a police report submitted into evidence to a jury of Highland Middle School students as prosecuting attorney Mike Oltmann questions him in Judge Hylla’s courtroom Friday morning during a mock trial in the case against “John Doe.” Friday was Law Day in Illinois, and more than 500 students from Highland Middle School participated in mock trials at the Madison County Courthouse. Photo by Marci Winters- McLaughlin.

Students learn how justice is served

Lawyers, judges help with mock trial
Published: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 11:33 AM CDT

On Friday morning, things were a bit topsy-turvy in Circuit Judge Dave Hylla’s courtroom.

For starters, the 12 jurors in the jury box next to the witness stand were all eighth graders. The benches behind the attorneys tables were filled by eighth graders as well, and their wiggles and squirms were under constant surveillance by their teachers from Highland Middle School.

The mock trial they were part of was a part of Madison County Law Day. The case was being prosecuted by a fresh-out-of-law-school attorney, Mike Oltmann, and a veteran defense attorney named Robert Ramsey who was prosecuting his first case. At the defense table was Ben Beyers, who typically prosecutes cases for the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Beyers spent a significant part of the morning-long trial cross-examining Highland Police Officer Chris Clewis, a man who at one time ran track at SIUE when Beyers was assistant track and field coach.

For prosecutors, it was an open-and-shut case, as Oltmann told jurors in his closing arguments. No evidence had been presented to contradict the charge that John Smith was guilty of running a stop sign, illegal transportation of alcohol and DUI.

Clewis had testified at length that when he pulled Doe over, Doe had blood-shot eyes, seemed unusually nervous, and smelled of alcohol. There was an unopened 12 oz. can of beer in the car and Doe admitted to him that he drunk “a couple of beers earlier in the day.”

Clewis administered three field sobriety tests. Doe also blew a .16 on his breathalyzer test, twice the legal limit in Illinois, Clewis said.

For Beyers, things weren’t quite so simple. During cross examination, Clewis acknowledged that the nervousness might simply have been because Doe was young, and the fatigue due to the fact that it was 11 p.m. While Clewis was no-doubt well intentioned that night, he nonetheless filled out a sloppy, error-filled report that included a failure to attach documentation that the breathalyzer had been calibrated recently. “There’s no evidence the machine worked properly,” Beyers said. “The officer said he thought it did, but he doesn’t know. He’s not an expert.”

One of the field sobriety tests Clewis administered that night was a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which Doe failed. Under questioning from Beyers, Clewis acknowledged that every one of the drivers Clewis had given the test to in his career had failed it. In his closing arguments, Beyers told jurors, “Everybody’s been in school and you know that if everybody flunks, it’s probably not a fair test.”

The jurors were chosen from a pool of students who scored 100 percent on the school’s Constitution test. On Friday, they were given five minutes to deliberate. They returned with a guilty verdict on all counts. Hylla thanked them. “I think it’s a great thing, and we’re going to keep this program going,” he said. He noted that an Intelligencer photographer had taken photos during the trial. California, he explained, allows televisions and cameras in the courtroom, but in a real trial, Illinois does not.

And jury selection, he added, can last for days. “The latest hot topic for jurors is that jurors cannot Twitter or get on the Internet or use their phones on breaks or deliberations or to do research about the case while you’re hearing the case as a juror,” he said.

Beyers outlined the penalties drivers face for underage drinking and DUI. A person who accumulates six or more DUIs during their lifetime could go to jail for up to 30 years, he said.

Before the students were dismissed to board buses back to Highland, Hylla said, “Physical injury to yourself or, God forbid, someone else, is the real reason. Don’t drink at all is the best advice. You’ll be healthier, happier and live longer. If you do, for God’s sake don’t get behind the wheel of a car.”

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