Preparing For A Courtroom Visit
The following material is reproduced from the pamphlet "Courtroom Visits--A Guide for Teachers and Court Officials", produced by the State Bar of Michigan.
This brochure contains suggestions for those organizing educational courtroom visits for students-an activity that often brings young people a better understanding of the role of courts in our society.
Teachers, judges, and court clerks in particular will find these suggestions helpful in arranging and conducting these important educational experiences for maximum effectiveness.
Committee on Your Legal Education
The State Bar of Michigan
What To Do Before You Visit
At some point before the court visit date, the teacher will want to discuss with students the type of court being visited and its differences from the other courts in this state.
The function of the courts is to administer justice and interpret laws. The Supreme Court in Lansing is Michigan’s highest court. Its seven justices decide, by majority vote, appeals from the lower courts and direct the work of other courts. The Michigan Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court whose judges sit in panels to hear cases. The Court of Appeals meets in Lansing, Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Marquette.
The Circuit Court is organized along county lines, except that a group of counties may be in the same circuit (in less-populated areas.) The Circuit Court generally deals with major civil cases and felony criminal trials. The Probate Court, also organized along county lines, includes the juvenile division and hears cases on wills, guardianships, adoptions, and commitments of the mentally ill. District Courts have jurisdiction over some civil cases, misdemeanors, and other matters. Finally, there are also municipal Courts in a few cities.
All of these courts generally are open for visits by students as well as the public. It should be noted, however, that juvenile proceedings are often closed. Teachers should inquire directly of the local probate judge whether these visitations are permitted.
HOW TO START: Visits should be initiated by either completing the Courtroom Visit Scheduling Form or by calling the court clerk or administrator to determine the best day and time for the visit.
GOOD TIMES TO VISIT: Timing is important in planning an educational court visit. Days when preliminary examinations are being conducted are good days because they compress the presentation of the facts of a case into a relatively short time span. However, many examinations are waived by the defense and defendant is bound over to the Circuit Court.
Jury selection is an interesting process which helps demonstrate key points in the system.
Civil infractions and traffic violations, cases often heard in District Courts, demonstrate how the system works while dramatizing human failings, frailties and sometimes even heroics.
Positive educational results tend to occur in court visits when certain expectations are recognized and met.
Court officials expect teachers to accompany students, especially when an entire class is involved in the visit.
A SUCCESS TIP: Students should always be required to react to the experience of a visit with some kind of a product: A report, summary of activities, a newspaper article, or simple notes should be encouraged to insure close attention to the proceedings.
Dress and demeanor should be appropriate to the decorum of the courtroom. School "colors" are not recommended and quiet is vital. The judge is always addressed as "Your Honor" and the audience stands when the judge enters and leaves the courtroom. This respect is accorded the court-not necessarily to any individual judge-but to the entire system.
In large courts, such as the 3rd Judicial Circuit Court for Wayne County, many cases are proceeding concurrently and if a delay or recess should occur, visitors are free to move to another courtroom. This leave-taking, however, should be done only during a break in testimony or a recess.
What Visitors May Expect
- Visitors deserve to be openly and courteously welcomed to their court. A designated representative of the court should meet them to provide the assistance needed to make the visit meaningful and educational. The office of the court clerk usually handles this assignment.
- Visitors may expect background information on the court they are visiting. This usually consists of a verbal presentation or printed materials such as a brochure describing the court plus a list of cases scheduled. The simpler the language of these materials, the greater the educational impact. "Legalese" won’t do the job.
- Visitors expect to be able to observe and hear the proceedings.