These Indian Valley juniors spent Thursday morning at the Tuscarawas County Courthouse learning about the real-world applications of their government and civics studies. (Photo by Stacey Carmany, Tusco TV)
New Philadelphia, Ohio - Students from three area high schools recently stepped out of their classrooms and into the courtroom for a real-world lesson on the U.S. justice system.
On Thursday, students from Indian Valley, Claymont and Tuscarawas Central Catholic sat in on criminal proceedings at the Tuscarawas County Courthouse as part of the Law Day program. Law Day is designed to help people appreciate their liberties, affirm their loyalty to the United States, and cultivate respect for the law.
Twenty-two Indian Valley juniors spent their morning in the courtroom of Common Pleas Court Judge Elizabeth Lehigh Thomakos, while 42 students from Claymont and Central Catholic attended afternoon proceedings in the courtroom of Judge Edward O’Farrell. The cases included charges of burglary, escape, trafficking in drugs, receiving stolen property and carrying a concealed weapon, theft, tampering with evidence, possession of drugs.
The Indian Valley students observed as Judge Thomakos imposed a $250,000 bond for a defendant arraigned on charges of aggravated burglary and intimidating an attorney, victim or witness. They also watched as the judge imposed time at the Stark County Regional Correction Center as part of the sentence for three separate defendants charged with crimes related to substance use.
Judge Thomakos explained to the students that the Stark Regional Correction Center, or SRCCC, is not a prison but a lockdown facility where inmates receive treatment and can earn privileges to leave on a daily basis for community service.
Juniors Joicelyn Beckett and Grace Smith said they were surprised that the judge did not sentence any of the defendants to prison.
“I was expecting a lot more harsh punishments, especially considering their situations,” Beckett said.
“Especially with the programs, it was kind of like they were trying to help them rebuild a life and make something for themselves,” Smith said.
The group also had an opportunity to sit in on a drug court hearing and learned about the potential impact the passage of Issue 1 have on future court proceedings.
The proposed constitutional amendment that would reclassify drug possession as a misdemeanor and prohibit judges from sentencing offenders to jail time until their third drug possession offense within 24 months.
Judge Thomakos explained that Issue 1 would take away the ability of judges to hold offenders accountable and determine the right sentence. And because it is being proposed as a constitutional amendment, it could not be easily changed.
“If there are any problems at all with the language of Issue 1, we’re going to be stuck with it if it passes. You can’t modify or change a constitutional amendment unless somebody engages another statewide campaign to change it,” she said.
Smith said she thought the discussion helped her understand the real-world application of what she and her classmates have been learning in class.
“We had just gotten into the Constitution. We just started learning about it, so whenever she brought up about the amendment, it’s really going to change how what we saw today plays out in future court cases,” she said.
At the end of the proceedings, students in both groups were given an opportunity to ask questions and received an informational pamphlet and a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution.
Law Day is coordinated by the East Central Ohio ESC and the Tuscarawas County Court of Common Pleas, General Trial Division, and sponsored by the Tuscarawas County Bar Association.
STACEY CARMANY, TUSCO TV