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San Marin Students Watch DUI Trial Unfold on Campus

Marin Superior Court brings drunken driving case to San Marin student center and allows mock trial team to render an unbinding decision; defendant found guilty of having double the blood-alcohol limit and hitting 100 mph on Highway 101 in October.

On the same stage where was recently performed, a real-life adventure/drama unfolded Thursday at ’s Emily Gates Student Center.

A Marin County Superior Court judge convicted a young Santa Rosa man for drunken driving as about 200 senior class students and mock trial team members looked on. The case was part of the “Real DUI Court in Schools” program that made a stop at last year.

It was one of the few times you’ll ever see a court case unfold while a mirrored disco ball dangles from the ceiling.

“As a teacher of seniors, it’s nice to show the legal process, which is something we cover (in government class) in the second semester,” said teacher Craig Pitti, the jury’s foreman. “Specifically, it showed that there are penalties and consequences of making poor choices. Hopefully that will resonate with the kids.”

The young man on trial — whose name won’t be revealed here because Novato Patch normally would not cover a misdemeanor DUI case — was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and driving with a blood-alcohol limit of more than .08 percent. Judge James Chou rendered the decision although a jury of San Marin mock trail club members also came to the same unbinding conclusion. Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom/student center.

San Marin is located about one mile from a spot on Novato Boulevard where Novato High sophomore died in September 2010 in an alcohol-related crash. Brott was a passenger in a car being driven by a minor who had been drinking alcohol that morning before the car slammed head-on into a cattle truck.

“It was good to have here, definitely,” senior Nick Elsmore said of the trial. “It’s good for (the students) to see the social aspects of this with Isaac Brott still on our minds. I think it’s also very important not only because drunk driving is dangerous but because you can throw your life away so fast.”

Mike Casper, a San Marin assistant principal, said having the trial on campus brings reality of the justice system into kids’ lives.

“It’s not reality TV. It’s not Law & Order,” he said. “This shows them not just what they have to lose but what the true danger to society is with DUI. There are consequences not only for you but for others around you. This was straight-up reality.”

Public defender Peter Arian and deputy district attorney Frank Riebli jousted with their lines of witness questioning as the court reporter took shorthand notes of the proceedings. The students heard the basic details of the case — a driver northbound on Highway 101 hitting speeds as high as 100 mph before being pulled over at the Novato-Marinwood border by a CHP officer; the young man failing several field sobriety tests and being found to have double the legal blood-alcohol limit; the intricate details of the gadgets used to test sobriety; the officer issuing the tests taking some liberties allowed by the CHP field manual rather than doing exactly what is recommended.

San Marin senior Adri Nichelini said she loved the opportunity to experience the courtroom drama while at school.

“I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since second grade when I read a bio on Sandra Day O’Connor,” she said. “It’s really fascinating watching a real case with the lawyers asking all their questions. It’s interesting to see how specific you need to be and look into details you don’t normally see. It’s awesome.”

Twelve students from the mock trail team, overseen by math teacher Kim Laabs, participated as jurors, and others sat in the audience with the senior class members. Chris Sheron, an attorney and the father of a mock trial team member, said he instructed the kids to observe what attorney tactics worked well and what didn’t.

“This was a way to learn how to be effective when making points in a courtroom,” he said. “With the witnesses, they saw the different ways to communicate, though humor, through seriousness and through science.”

Juror Brad Wachli said he enjoyed deliberating with his mock trial teammates the most, but he had a lot of studying Arian and Riebli make their cases.

"In mock trial it's more scripted," he said. "Watching them do it, they just looked at their notes and it was improv from there."

What will he work on? "Presentation," Wachli said. "It's all about presentation in a way the jury can understand but dramatizing it more."

The court's campus program visited Novato High and Terra Linda High last year and will go to San Marin, San Rafael and Drake high schools this school year.

Sylvia Barry November 18, 2011 at 01:51 AM
So glad Marin Superior Court and San Marin High arranged for this. You can never tell the kids (or adults, for that matter) too much about the danger and consequences of drunk driving! What a great program!
Tom Walsh November 18, 2011 at 03:00 AM
Bravo Marin Superior Court. Nothing like reality non-TV.

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