After a brief deliberation lasting only twenty minutes, a jury found Ja’nae Sinclair guilty of kidnapping and related charges. However, this was no ordinary trial, this verdict was delivered during a mock trial conducted by youth from Southwest Philadelphia’s Police Athletic League (PAL).
The mock trial was held recently at Drexel University’s Earle Mack School of Law in West Philadelphia. Some two dozen teenagers participated in the mock trial, which was designed to simulate actual courtroom procedures complete with defense, prosecution, a jury and exhibits. There was even testimonies and cross examinations all conducted by the PAL youth.
Judge Laurie Dumas, an actual Common Pleas court judge, presided over the trial and ensured that the proceedings were conducted according to established court procedures.
“I will be listening to the evidence and I will charge the jury and the jury will then come back with their decision,” said Dumas at an interview prior to the trial.
This was Dumas’ first mock trial and she was approached by a member of the Dilworth Paxson law firm who asked if she would preside over the trial.
“They thought that it would be very exciting to have someone who does this every day to listen to their case and actually preside over it,” said Dumas who has been a judge for 10 years.
Dumas said she believed children should be exposed to opportunities such as the mock trials so that they can be made aware of the fact that there are possibilities in different careers. “The more we expose our kids, the more opportunities they have to think about pursuing.”
With 25 PAL centers throughout the city, the initiative has programs throughout the year including basketball, football and other sports activities. However, there is also an educational component for the development of their youth as well.
“Today is one of our most highlighted and educational programs, which is our mock trial,” said Chase Trimmer, education and volunteer manager at PAL.
Trimmer said the youth spent two months in preparation for the trial and getting to understand basic elements of the law.
Initially students received coaching from volunteers from Drexel University School of Law, who guided them through actual court procedure and law and prepared them for the trial. Attorney Gino Benedetti of the law firm Dilworth Paxson, coordinated the event, providing assistance and guidance as needed.
According to Benedetti, the idea of the mock trial was arose during a meeting of a PAL education committee meeting some 7 or 8 years ago and the mock trials have been conducted since that time.
“We just dug into it with the kids and they do a phenomenal job,” Benedetti said. “These are all kids who are participants of the Police Athletic League, most of them are between the 8th and12th grades.”
The PAL youth were given seven sessions at the Southwest Philadelphia PAL center located at 59th at Lindbergh Boulevard.
“We get these kids to come in and understand the case, we do a demonstration for them to show them what its like and we show them different parts (of a trial) for 6 or 7 weeks,” Benedetti said.