Teenagers often don’t fully grasp the legal consequences of their actions — whether it’s using a fake ID or bringing marijuana from Colorado, where it’s legal, to a state where it’s outlawed.
So a national program aimed at educating teens — the next generation of potential jurors — about good decision-making and civil discourse will be offered in federal court in Portland beginning next month. If successful, it could be offered in Bangor starting this fall.
“When I go to a bar, I use the fake I.D. I bought on the Internet. I’ve heard that the site could be part of a national ring, but I’m not going to get caught. Besides, if I do, the worst that will happen is that they’ll take my I.D. and kick me out of the bar.”
As part of the program, students also deliberate as jurors in a First Amendment case involving social media. And they learn whether they correctly answered the 10 true or false scenarios involving possible crimes.
The program includes a self-reflection exercise that asks students to consider how they discuss controversial issues and asks questions geared toward encouraging civil discourse including: “When I get excited, I interrupt the person speaking. When you feel strongly about a subject, how do you monitor yourself so that you don’t interrupt?”
The teens will practice civil discourse skills following the courtroom exercise in which some students acting as attorneys will make oral arguments before a federal judge. The jurors then will deliberate before rendering a verdict.
U.S. District Judge Jon Levy and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Peter Cary will act as judges in the program. Local attorneys will coach students acting as lawyers, and another attorney will act as moderator for jury deliberations.
“This is a wonderful way to give our students an experience that will allow them to grow into active, engaged U.S. citizens,” Levy said Friday.
Zachary Heiden of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, who will coach student attorneys, said the program is important because the public has lost an understanding of what goes on in the nation’s courthouses.
“The courts are where we settle disputes, and courts ensure that everyone, including the government, follows the rules,” he said. “Courts have never been more important. By bringing students inside, and teaching them about how courts wrestle with difficult issues, this program is going to enhance civic education and public life.”
On May 20, students from Oxford Hills High School will become the first to try out the program. At the end of it, they will learn that buying a fake ID on the internet using someone else’s identity is a federal crime.
For information, call U.S. District Court Clerk Christa Berry at 780-3356 or email Christa_Berry@med.uscourts.gov. The website for the program is: https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/civil-discourse-and-difficult-decisions.