The courtroom, Steve Davies tells his students, is the last place you want to meet a judge.
Instead, he and other Tacoma teachers brought them to their classrooms.
“Most people don’t get this opportunity,” Davies told students in one of his law classes at Wilson High School.
Members of the Pierce County Superior Court bench visited middle and high school students last week as part of the annual Law Week, organized by the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association’s young lawyers group.
This year’s topic: Miranda rights.
The subject is particularly relevant and interesting to students, said Davies, who’s also an attorney practicing civil law.
Judges and other legal professionals deal with Miranda rights daily, he said, and while he hopes his students won’t have to call on those rights first-hand, he wants them to understand how they play out in the legal system.
“I think it opens up their eyes a little bit,” said Davies, who’s been teaching the class for almost 30 years, and will retire at the end of this school year.
And he thinks being able to talk about those rights with a judge in the classroom helps students see that judges are people, too.
“When you can have a face-to-face discussion with someone in a powerful position like that, I think it absolutely promotes trust,” he said.
Judge Ronald Cullpepper took a theatrical approach with the students, demonstrating the right to remain silent and right to an attorney by doing a mock arrest of lawyer Morgan Edrington for one of Davies’s classes.
Asked jokingly whether she expected to be on the other side of the legal system that day, Edrington smiled and said: “He warned me. I just didn’t think he was really going to do it.”
They pretended she had been arrested for drunken driving.
If she blurted out information, such as how much she’d had to drink, before the officer had a chance to read her her rights, that could be used against her in court, she told the class.
Reading the rights: “reminds a suspect that they have the right to say nothing,” Edrington said.
Judges also spoke about the history of Miranda rights.
Ernesto Miranda was arrested in 1963 and charged with the rape of a woman in Pheonix, Arizona. Police recorded a confession after interrogating him without an attorney, information later used to convict him.
The U.S. Supreme Court looked at the case in 1966 and ruled police needed to inform suspects in custody about some of their rights — such as that they have the right to remain silent and to speak with an attorney — before questioning.
Judge James Orlando told one of Davies’s classes that Miranda was convicted at his second trial and became a minor celebrity upon his release. Law enforcement had him sign cards they carried that listed the rights named for him.
Eventually, the students learned, he was fatally stabbed during a bar fight.
Davies’ classes used their time with the judges to ask questions outside of Miranda rights, as well.
They asked whether judges sit with the jury while they deliberate, if they can use the “judge card” to get out of trouble and if they are ever in disbelief at some of the crimes that end up in court.
No, no and sometimes, Orlando told them.
The jury deliberates in private, he and his wife pay their own traffic tickets and some cases, especially infant deaths, make judges question humanity, he said.
He and other judges also talked about the part of the Miranda warning police read that goes: “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
Officers are constantly making observations, and recording them during arrests, he said.
“They’re writing down everything about you,” Orlando said.
Though TV shows make Miranda well-known today, he said it was controversial among law enforcement at first.
“The police and the prosecutors believed no one would confess again,” he said.
But they did.
And suspects aren’t the only ones.
“Innocent people confess to things they did not do,” Judge Helen Whitener told Davies’ students.
Jalani Palu-Thompson, 18, said she was interested to learn that studies show juveniles are prone to false confessions.
“That they’re more susceptible,” she said.
In Davies’s class, students learn to cooperate with police on the street, but also to ask for an attorney.
“What’s the rule we talked about?” Davies asked one of his periods Thursday. “Shut up. Don’t speak.”
Whitener prompted the class: “You have the right to....”
“Remain silent,” the students responded in union.
“So tell me,” she said. “Why do people talk after hearing that?”
She also cautioned that body language can count as talking. A shake or nod of the head, for example.
“You’ve got to be careful,” she said.
Cordell Corbin, 18, said he was surprised to learn that.
And he said he thinks everyone should be aware that even the innocent: “should probably go on the safe side,” and get an attorney.
Having a judge visit his class was interesting and helpful, he said, but he doesn’t see a legal career in his future.
“I’m going to art school,” he said.