NEW PALESTINE — The stage in the auditorium at New Palestine High School was set to resemble an official courtroom because, for all practical purposes Wednesday, it was.
With a bailiff and police security on hand, attorneys were placed on opposing sides in front of a raised bench for the three Indiana Court of Appeals judges to sit as they heard oral arguments in an active case.
For the second year in a row, the high school was the site for an official “Appeals on Wheels” traveling courtroom. It allowed students, staff and patrons to hear a real appeal via oral arguments from a criminal case making its way through the legal system.
“I thought it was an awesome experience,” senior Matt Kreutzer said.
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“Our English classes have been integrating the topic, as well as our government classes and econ classes,” assistant principal Miles Hercamp said. “The kids have been really excited about seeing this.”
Appeals on Wheels is a state program designed to help students and community members learn more about Indiana’s judiciary. The proceedings gave students and adults who attended a chance to see what the court is and isn’t, said Judge John Baker, who has served on the appellate court since 1989.
The court has conducted more than 400 Appeals on Wheels events since 2001.
Traveling oral arguments are the same as those that would be heard in the Statehouse courtroom, officials said. After the oral arguments, the judges took questions from the audience, although not about the case.
The students heard an appeal Wednesday involving a man who said he thinks police overstepped their bounds taking inventory of a car he was driving. The car had a handgun inside, resulting in charges against the man.
It could take several weeks before the three judges reach a decision on the oral argument they heard in New Palestine. A decision of the Court of Appeals is final unless granted further review by the Indiana Supreme Court.
Holly Lyons of New Palestine practices law in Greenfield. She helped set up the opportunity for the students through the Court of Appeals.
“It’s a very unique opportunity,” Lyons said.
While many high school government classes will visit a courtroom and take a tour, Lyons said seeing an actual oral appeal is rare.
“They’re not going to see anything like this on a visit,” Lyons said. “It’s different because there is a real oral argument at a higher level, and not every case has an oral argument.”
She said the students would be particularly interested in hearing this case surrounding the Fourth Amendment because it is something they deal with on a daily basis. The school has its own rules about searching vehicles and what officials can and can’t do with student property, Lyons said.
While the Indiana State Police provided courtroom security, school officials had to set up the courtroom. They also provided a judges robing room.
All in attendance had to follow strict court etiquette and procedures. There were no cellphones allowed, no cameras, no talking, eating or drinking.
Martin DeAgostino, communications director for the Court of Appeals, said the event is a unique learning experience for both students and staff.
“Appeals on Wheels opens the judicial process to people who’ve never observed it, don’t know much about it and now get the chance, in about an hour, to experience the Court of Appeals in action,” DeAgostino said.
He said the Appeals on Wheels meets Indiana academic standards for many U.S. government classes. He said those classes ask for high school students to demonstrate their understanding of due process, judicial review, and an independent judiciary.
Senior Taylor Hiland is considering a career in law and said bringing the court to school was an educational experience.
“I don’t think every school in the state gets to experience something like this,” Hiland said. “It was really different and unique.”