Harford County Circuit Court, Bar Association hold DUI mock trials for high school students

By Carol Hatem, Harford County Circuit Court

Each year, prom season means long dresses, tuxes, and corsages - and unfortunately for too many teenagers, DUIs. A long-running program in Harford County has been working to reduce drunk driving by presenting a DUI mock trial to high school seniors.

For the past 27 years, Harford County Circuit Judge Stephen M. Waldron has organized and run the mock trials. Judge Waldron presides over a court that includes a prosecutor, a defense attorney, a police officer and a young attorney playing the part of a student at the school, borrowing the name (with permission) of an actual student in the senior class. They present a trial involving a post-prom party, highlighting the negative repercussions from bad decision-making about drinking and driving. This is followed by a question-and-answer session with the students.

The program is popular with the 10 county high schools, and many schools reserve the DUI mock trial team a year or more in advance. ”Our high school has participated in the program for more than 20 years. The question-and-answer dialog which follows is particularly informative for the seniors,” said J. Patrick Whitehurst, Fallston High School social studies teacher. “I highly recommend this program to every community as a tool to educate our youth interactively as to the consequences of a DUI.”

Through this program, the high school seniors are presented with a DUI scenario they can identify with: finding themselves doing field sobriety tests in a prom gown or tux on what was to be one of the biggest nights of their lives. The seniors hear not only the legal ramifications of a DUI conviction, but also the associated consequences, ranging from MVA sanctions to lawyers' fees to a diminished social life.

Each year, Judge Waldron recruits some of the youngest members of the bar to play the role of the teenage defendants. “It's a great way to start getting them involved in the bar association programs,” Judge Waldron said. “They have a good time, and appreciate being able to give back to the community. In addition, they really hold the students' attention through their creative and sometimes humorous portrayals of high school seniors, particularly when they use the names of real students.”

As Judge Waldron pointed out, “If we save one kid from becoming a DUI defendant or a DUI accident victim, then we've done our job.”