High School Program Helps Students Visualize Consequences of
By: Gerri Elder
Young people are often accused of acting as if they are
immortal and/or for seeing themselves as the center of the universe. A program at El Puente Community School in Lompoc, Cali.
helps students see the real consequences that can result from driving under the
Students from grades 7 to 12 were recently given a chance to
witness actual DUI trial proceedings in the courtroom—a setting with
unmistakable implications. Following the
trial, the students spent time talking the judge, attorneys and even the
accused in the case.
The program is called "Real DUI Court in School: Choices and
Consequences," and according to Glenn Wallace of the Santa Maria Times,
students are coming out with a new-found understanding of what is at stake for
them when they consume alcohol and drive. The program is a collaboration between the Santa Barbara County
Sheriff's Department, the District Attorney's office, the Public Defender's
office, and schools in the county.
The students' day in court is the final act in a six-session
course that teaches students the importance of avoiding drugs and alcohol.
Crime Prevention Specialist Pamela Relyea is a primary
coordinator for the program, and she credits its success to the volunteer
efforts of many of the courtroom participants.
"Today you'll see someone's real life consequences of
choosing to drink and drive," she told the students seated in the courtroom.
The defendant in the case participated as part of an
agreement with the District Attorney's office. He was known as "John Doe" for the hearing and pleaded "no contest" to
one count of driving under the influence of alcohol. That sped things up considerably.
"I find the defendant guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt,
based on his plea," Superior Court Judge Kay Kuns said. She sentenced John Doe to three years on
probation, no alcohol consumption for a year, nearly $2,000 in fines, and
mandatory enrollment in alcohol treatment and counseling.
The prosecutor in the case, Jerry McBeth, pointedly reminded
the defendant that any violation of his three-year probation would land him in
jail for six months, a promise that got the attention of the students.
After the proceedings ended, John Doe spoke to the students
about how easy it is to make mistakes.
"Just one block is all I was going to go," he told
them. A student asked what he had drunk
before driving. He said he had consumed
a 12-pack of beer.
The class also asked questions of the DUI lawyers involved in
the case, all of whom related far more serious DUI cases they had participated
in, cases that frequently involved DUI-related deaths. The judge in the case reminded the students
that any alcohol found in their systems while driving would result in a one
year loss of their license.
Relyea says she wants the program to be held at more schools
across the county and eventually grow into an institution of DUI high school
education, to be alternated with a program that shows students the impact a DUI
can have on the friends and families of those injured.
"[Real DUIL court] follows up with the real consequences and
the real people," she says.
Santa Maria Times