Selma, Dallas County students receive Civil Discourse training
Published 3:50 pm Friday, April 21, 2023
On April 13, 2023, a team of federal court staff and lawyers brought the Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions program to the Dallas County Courthouse in Selma, Alabama.
Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions is a national initiative of the federal courts that welcomes high school students into courthouses across the country to participate in realistic simulated hearings on teen-relevant issues that arise from situations in which law-abiding young people can find themselves.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama has presented this program to various student groups at the federal courthouse in Mobile on multiple occasions since early 2022; however, this occasion marked the first time it had been done in Selma.
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For this event, six area schools (Dallas County High School, Keith High School, Southside High School, Morgan Academy, Selma High School, and Meadowview Christian School) sent a total of 32 students, plus teacher chaperones, to participate in this hands-on civics education experience.
Each student was assigned a particular role (prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, or juror) and worked with volunteer attorney coaches to prepare for oral arguments and deliberations concerning a fictional fact pattern.
Specifically, written case materials directed students to apply the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Elonis v. United States to the subject of whether particular speech constituted a true threat outside the protections of the First Amendment, such that it could validly form the basis of a criminal prosecution.
After preparing their arguments with the help of attorney coaches, the two student lawyer groups presented their respective positions to U.S. Magistrate Judge P. Bradley Murray in a real courtroom setting.
Judge Murray engaged with the student orators on both legal and factual issues, and asked follow-up questions intended to press the students on the strengths and weaknesses of their positions.
At the conclusion of arguments, student jurors openly deliberated on the issues with the help of a jury attorney coach, until reaching a verdict.
The Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions exercise was designed to give student participants real-life experience with civil discourse and solid decision-making skills, while also providing them with awareness of situations that can have lasting and legal consequences.
At the same time, it gave them an opportunity to interact with a real federal judge and real attorneys who routinely practice in federal court.