Nearly 90 Ketchikan High School seniors recently participated in a mock jury selection in Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens’ courtroom.
Kayhi teacher Susan Stone’s government class filled Stephens’ courtroom to capacity on the morning of Feb. 13. The students were awaiting their chance to undergo a mock jury selection and questioning as part of an annual experience for Kayhi seniors, who are all of age or are close to the legal juror age of 18 years old.
Along with Stephens, District Attorney Timothy McGillicuddy and Public Defender Jay Hochberg were present to question the students and lead them through the early stages of a trial, which included such events as calling the court to order, listening to the facts of the case and hearing testimony from a witness.
To prepare the students for participation in the mock selection, Stephens presented a short video about how jury service works in the state of Alaska. After the video ended, Stephens addressed the students and explained how he usually conducts a trial.
“You’ve all filled out the questionnaires, and this is the exact form that we use for jurors when they come in for a jury trial, whether it’s a civil trial or a criminal trial,” Stephens said.
“We would call the first 13 names off a list and into the jury box,” he continued. “For my trials — felony trials — we have 12 jurors and almost always seat one alternate, so we have 13 folks come up and those are the people that the lawyers ask questions of.”
The 13 randomly selected Kayhi jurors listened as Stephens explained that either McGillicuddy or Hochberg would be questioning them — and possibly dismissing them from the jury as an example of how a real selection is made. Stephens said that the dismissal of potential jurors is addressed under Alaska Criminal Rule 24.
“ … If one of the lawyers thinks that one of those rules (from Criminal Rule 24) applies to one of you folks, they’ll say, ‘Your honor, I move to disqualify this juror under rule 24,’” Stephens explained. “We’ll discuss it, (and) if I agree, that juror is excused and we’ll read the next name on the list.”
To make the experience as accurate as possible, Stephens created a fake case for the jury. In the example, a visiting Austrian citizen — given the name Vincent Ludvig, and portrayed by Kayhi volunteer Ethan Thomas — was on trial for assault after allegedly stabbing a Dock Street jewelry store owner who attempted to prevent him from stealing a pair of earrings.
Once Stephens was finished explaining how he conducts usual jury selection proceedings, Hochberg and McGillicuddy led several rounds of questions that resembled those they would ask of an actual jury.
Hochberg asked the young jurors questions such as, “Is there always a right or wrong?” and “Do you think everybody needs to obey the law?”
Hochberg also demonstrated what happens when a potential juror is dismissed during questioning.
He handed a slip of paper to a student in the jury box and asked him to read it aloud in response to the question, “Do you think you would consider testimony from a police officer more reliable?”
The student read Hochberg’s prepared script, which made a negative statement about law enforcement officers. In response, Hochberg asked Stephens to dismiss the student “juror” and allowed another student to fill that seat. Both McGillicuddy and Hochberg used this method to dismiss several students, allowing new participants to answer questions in the jury box throughout the experience.
The students continued to be questioned for most of two hours. Questions ranged from, “Do you think there’s implicit biases that everyone has?” and, “Do you agree with the legal drinking age?” to, “Do you think you should be able to wear whatever you want to school?” or, “Do gestures mean different things in different languages?”
After the jury was “selected” by Stephens, the mock trial began with the calling of a witness. A prop pen knife was brought out as evidence, and the students listened as McGillicuddy and Hochberg questioned the witness. The trial ended when Susan Stone announced the class had to return to the classroom.
At the end of the experience, the students were encouraged to share their thoughts about the questioning.
One student remarked that the questioning made them anxious, while a second student said they felt upset after being dismissed from “serving” on the jury.
“I felt like there was a right thing to say,” a third student shared.