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Nathan Bishop Middle School Students Discover Justice

In record time, a jury sitting in federal court in Providence returned a verdict for the plaintiff, finding that a school principal violated her 4th Amendment rights. The student, suspended for damaging school property, was punished based on information the principal discovered while searching her electronic devices during an unrelated investigation. The student claimed that the search was unreasonable, and unconstitutional.

 While this true-to-life scenario could have been argued by skilled attorneys in a federal courtroom anywhere in the country, this jury verdict was the crowning event of the inaugural Rhode Island session of Discovering Justice: a four-month long civics education program undertaken by nine eighth grade students from Providence’s Nathan Bishop Middle School.

Nathan Bishop student attorney's are sworn-in by Clerk of Court Hanorah Tyer-Witek at the start of a Discovering Justice mock trial in federal court . The trial waas presided over by the Honorable O. Rogeriee Thompson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
U.S. District Court photo
Nathan Bishop student attorneys are sworn-in by Clerk of Court Hanorah Tyer-Witek at the start of a Discovering Justice mock trial in federal court . The trial was presided over by the Honorable O. Rogeriee Thompson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

The program, hosted by the United States Attorney’s Office, and staffed by volunteer federal prosecutors and office staff, delved into the workings of the judicial system and explored the ideals of justice.  The class focused on legal and constitutional issues, with students each taking on the role of plaintiff, defendant, and witnesses during trial preparations.  The program culminated with a mock trial held in federal court, presided over by the Honorable O. Rogeriee Thompson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Students authored and delivered opening statements; examined and cross-examined witnesses (made up of volunteers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office staff); and prepared and delivered closing arguments to a volunteer jury.

U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha speaking with Nathan Bishop Middle School students as they are set to begin to argue their case in U.S. District Court
U.S. District Court photo
U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha speaks to Nathan Bishop Middle School students as they are set to begin arguing their case before a U.S. District Court volunteer jury

A few days after the conclusion of the program, United States Attorney Zachary Cunha met with each of the students and their teacher to congratulate them on their performance and dedication, providing each with a Department of Justice Certificate of Congratulations and photos taken during the trial.

 “These students did an amazing job, not just as advocates, but as engaged, passionate participants in learning about our legal system and how it works,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha.  “Civics programs like Discovering Justice are an important way of engaging the kids who will be tomorrow’s judges, lawyers, and jurors, and show them that we all have a role to play to make our justice system fair, effective, and evenhanded. I’m thrilled that we were able to partner with Discovering Justice to make this happen here in Rhode Island.”

Discovering Justice is a Boston-based, non-profit organization, with more than two dozen programs currently in progress in Massachusetts. Nathan Bishop Middle School became the first Rhode Island school to participate in the program.

United States Attorney Cunha thanks United States District Court Chief Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., Clerk of Court Hanorah Tyer-Witek, and the staff of the U.S. District Court for hosting the mock trial; the teachers and staff of Nathan Bishop Middle School for their assistance during the eleven-week program; and the prosecutors and staff of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their volunteer efforts.

Click here for more information on the Discovering Justice program.

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Updated December 23, 2022

Topic
Community Outreach