Program helps youngsters learn about legal system
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 18, 2004
In the James McLemore courtroom at the Godwin Courts Complex on last week, history was made. A criminal whose name had been known around the globe for centuries was finally brought to trial. A crime notorious for years was brought to justice at last, and a true landmark in global legal history was established.
And after all that time and trouble, the crook only got a year in jail – a sentence that was immediately suspended pending the service of two lunches to the prisoners!
It was all part of the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office’s (CAO) program to help local youngsters learn about the criminal justice system, and know how to avoid it later on in life. Fairy tale heroine Goldilocks was on trial for breaking and entering (after all, she broke into the Three Bears’ home), petty larceny (that bowl of Baby Bear’s porridge she chowed down on was worth less than $200) and destruction of private property (sitting on Baby Bear’s chair and smashing it can get you a year in the slammer!).
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&uot;The main thing is that, here in America, everyone has the right to a fair trial,&uot; CAO community outreach coordinator Diana Klink told campers in the First Baptist Summer Camp. &uot;There are a lot of places in the world where people can’t get this. Laws are sometimes difficult to understand, and not everyone knows how the court system works, so people and companies hire professionals called lawyers to represent them in matters involving the law.
&uot;My office is where special lawyers for the citizens of Suffolk work to help enforce the laws of our city and state to keep us safe from people who commit crimes. Who can give me an example of a crime?&uot;
Answers like &uot;Stabbing!&uot; &uot;Robbery!&uot; and &uot;Hit and run!&uot; popped up from the audience. &uot;Those are all very good examples of types of crimes,&uot; Klink said. &uot;Now I want you to listen to a story. You’ve probably heard it before, but I want you to listen to it with a little different ears.&uot;
She told them the fairy tale that the Brothers Grimm originated so many centuries ago. Goldilocks went for a walk in the forest, and came upon a house. When no one answered her knock, she walked right in, and found a table with three bowls of porridge. The first bowl was too hot, the second too cold… but the third was just right.
Tired after her meal, Goldie headed into the living room for a rest and saw three chairs. The first was too big, the second too small, but the third was perfect.
Well, almost. As she sat down, it shattered into pieces!
The frustrated femme went upstairs and fell asleep. Unfortunately, the house’s tenants came home soon, and found that someone had eaten their food and broken their furniture. They headed upstairs, and found their snoozing intruder. Awakening with a start, the Locks lass bolted from the house and never returned.
In most circles, the story ended there. But for this outing, it received a bit of modernizing. &uot;Papa Bear ran to the phone to call 911,&uot; Klink said. &uot;The Suffolk Police Department answered the call and sent a police officer out. He got a statement from the three witnesses, and a warrant was issued for her arrest. She was found hiding out in the woods behind First Baptist and was arrested.&uot;
She was taken to court, and camps were selected to play the roles. Goldie and her attorney sat on one side of the courtroom, the prosecutor on the other. A judge and her clerk took the bench, the stenographer in front of them. Witnesses and a bailiff sat behind the lawyers, and jurors filled the box.
That’s when a real attorney came in to finish up the case: Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson. &uot;Do you know what kind of sentence you can get for breaking and entering?&uot; he asked the kids. &uot;You can go to prison for up to 20 years!&uot; The other crimes were misdemeanors, so they had a limit of 12 months.
After going over the facts of the case, which took all of two minutes, the jury decided to show leniency, sentencing the relieved defendant to only a year. But her good luck wasn’t over – the judge immediately suspended the sentence on the condition that she serve lunch to the prisoners over a period of two days!
&uot;There are some very serious lessons,&uot; Ferguson said. &uot;It was kind of fun, but if you commit crimes, it can have a bad impact on your life. If you think before you act, you won’t end up in criminal court like Goldilocks.
&uot;It’s important that you get an education and go to college,&uot; he said. &uot;You have to learn everything you can. Education is something that no one can ever take away. A lot of people in Goldilocks’ position today didn’t get a good education, and they might turn to a life of crime.
&uot; We want you to get a good education so you can be productive citizens. It’s better than living behind bars for years, where someone controls every move you make.&uot;
Goldilocks, back in her original persona of Sarah Peelen, vowed that it would be her last time at a defendant’s table.
&uot;I’m not as mean as some people,&uot; she said. &uot;When I grow up, I’m not going to ever do that!&uot;