Third-graders get legal lessons via mock arrest
Greencastle-Antrim third-graders were involved in a drunk driving arrest on Friday — but don't worry, it wasn't an actual crime. It was part of a mock arrest and arraignment at Magisterial District Judge Duane Cunningham's office in Greencastle.
"We think it's a good thing for the kids to experience that our court system is here to take care of them," Cunningham said. "The third-graders get to see that the police aren't really bad like they may see on TV, but that they are out there to help the general population."
This is the second year Cunningham has invited students to a mock arrest and arraignment.
"I enjoy doing something community-based," he said. "It's important they know where district court is and what we do."
The magisterial district court is a minor court and the first level of Pennsylvania's judicial system. The minor courts are presided over by elected magisterial district judges.
Franklin County has seven magisterial district judges, including Cunningham, who hear civil cases up to $12,000; handle minor criminal offenses, traffic citations and non-traffic ordinance violations, truancy cases and emergency protection-from-abuse petitions; and preside over marriage ceremonies.
They also conduct preliminary arraignments and hearings and set bail in more serious cases that will go before the Court of Common Pleas.
On Friday, students got to see what happens during and after a DUI traffic stop. Greencastle-Antrim High School junior Jacob Reid played the role of the drunk driver.
"I'd like to go into some kind of law," Reid said. "It's definitely useful to see law in action."
Reid climbed behind the wheel of an SUV as students watched.
The SUV remained parked, with a borough police unit, lights flashing, parked behind. And that's how the action began.
"This is pretend, to show you how a traffic stop goes," Officer Bob Petrunak of the Greencastle Police Department told the students. "He was doing something unsafe. We are going to stop him for careless driving."
Petrunak then approached the vehicle as he would during a real traffic stop and asked Reid where he was going.
"I was headed home," Reid said. "I was at a party."
"What were you doing at the party?" Petrunak asked.
"I was hanging out with friends," Reid replied.
Reid admitted he may have had a drink or two and Petrunak said he would perform a field sobriety test.
"The more you cooperate, the better off you're going to be," Petrunak told Reid as he climbed out of the SUV.
As the officer conducted the mock sobriety test, Reid did what he was told, but added a wobble and acted slightly confused — all part of the role he was playing.
"He was very cooperative and reasonable and we didn't have to use more force to arrest him," Petrunak explained to the group.
As it turned out in this pretend incident, the driver was not only under the influence of alcohol, he also was carrying illegal drugs in his pocket.
Officers than placed handcuffs on Reid and escorted him into Cunningham's courtroom.
"Remember, this is all pretend, he's not a bad guy," Petrunak reminded the class as he led Reid away.
The class then gathered in the courtroom where Cunningham took the bench.
"This is a preliminary arraignment to announce the charges, present an affidavit of probable cause and set bail," Cunningham explained to the children.
He then read Reid his rights and explained what happens after an arrest and during an arraignment. "This process takes more time than what you viewed this morning," Cunningham said. "Next is a preliminary hearing."
Cunningham then explained what kinds of cases district judges handle and took questions from students.
The children then returned outside so Greencastle Police Officer Kevin Creager could explain what police can and cannot do during routine traffic stops.
He explained the differences between weapons, from pepper spray to a taser to a gun, and talked about his uniform and the benefits of having a K9 officer to prevent the "bad guys" from getting away.
And he was honest about the challenges to the job.
"We have to watch what we're getting into," Creager said. He said there are so many drugs on the street and some can cause police officers to overdose just by touching the person they are arresting.
"It's really scary," he said. "I don't know why people are putting this stuff in their bodies."