CHARLESTON – West Virginia students have a chance to perform their own version of Law & Order by participating in the state’s Law Adventure program.

The program, sponsored by the state Supreme Court of Appeals, includes mock trials that allow students to see how the court system works.

“I think they really benefit from coming to their local courthouse and meeting judicial officers," Kandi Greter, public education coordinator for the courts, told West Virginia Record. "A lot of times they get a very detailed tour of the courthouse, it’s an experience that all the kids really enjoy."

The program began in 2008, and involves a varying number of students per year. Greter said that up to a half-dozen schools, with 10 to 15 students per school, may participate in a given year.

Make no mistake, Law Adventure isn’t a weekend event. Court officials present scenarios to participating schools at the beginning of each school year, and the process lasts through the spring.

“Students work on this project for months normally. They have to do the research, write the script from beginning to end. Develop the evidence. The guidelines require that the trial be done in front of a circuit court judge, family court judge or magistrate,” Greter said. “They normally schedule that for January. The scripts have to be post marked by March 1 for the Young Lawyers to grade. Winners are normally announced in April."

Participating students write the scripts for the mock trials and perform the roles normally associated with a court process — judge, jury, prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, witness. Program officials encourage students to invite local attorneys to help develop the scripts. Each mock trial should last no longer than 45 minutes, according to program guidelines. The trials consist of the same elements of a real trial — opening and closing statements, testimony, introduction of evidence, jury deliberations, etc. Program guidelines instruct participants to act out the scenario in front of “witnesses” who will later testify at trial.

Greter said students who participate in the program learn valuable lessons that could lead them to pursue careers in the legal field.

“The thought and creativity the kids put into these cases is amazing," she said. "They come up with ideas I never would have imagined, and then they put it all together and make it work. I have seen kids that are going to be great lawyers by the way they so passionately argue their case. I have seen kids who will have a future in acting. It’s so wonderful to see these kids get so involved in the process.”

In the most recent program, students from Guyan Valley Middle School in Lincoln County won the contest.

The program is open to all students in fifth through 12th grade. Depending on the level of participation each year, winners may come from different age groups.

West Virginia Department of Education supports the program.

Its goals are to not only teach students about the various roles involved in the judicial system, but to also help the students become “vigilant, informed citizens who actively participate in preservation and improvement of American government.”

Winners are chosen based on several criteria: correct use of grammar, 10 points; opening statements’ persuasiveness and description of evidence, 20 points; testimonial consistency with the scenario and creativity, 20 points; closing arguments’ persuasiveness and description of evidence, 20 points; jury instructions’ clarity and accuracy, 20 points; and accurate, consistent use of evidence, 10 points.

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