Detroit students see state Supreme Court at work

Oralandar Brand-Williams The Detroit News

Detroit school students saw justice in action firsthand Wednesday as the Michigan Supreme Court held oral arguments at Cass Tech High School.


Student Logan R. Smith, a 12th grader, listens during the hearing.

It was the first time in the court’s history that it has held a session in a Detroit public school.

Detroit City Council president Brenda Jones invited the court to Cass Tech, where students from schools across the city gathered to hear the legal arguments in a Wayne County case involving the use of cellphone photos or other secondary methods as a way for witnesses to identify criminal suspects.

“It is so important that our young people see what happens in the justice system,” Jones told the justices and the students, local judges and others who were in the audience.

In the case before the court at Wednesday’s session, People v. Elisah Kyle Thomas, the defendant is seeking to have a shooting victim’s identification of him tossed out, arguing it wasn’t reliable because it relied on a single cellphone photo police showed the victim.

Thomas’ appellate attorney, Kathy Murphy, told the justices a photo is “very different from seeing a live human being.”

Jason Williams, the chief of appeals for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, told the justices that secondary or “suggestive” identification procedures “do not violate due process.”

The justices questioned how effective and reliable secondary identification is. The court will issue a ruling at a later date.

Many students in the audience indicated they plan careers in the legal field after watching the proceedings played out before them in a school auditorium .

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti of the Detroit Public Schools Community District said the session held before the students demonstrated “learning in action.”


Justice Brian K. Zahra questions Wayne County Prosecutor Jason Williams during the hearing on Wednesday. Detroit school students saw justice in action firsthand Wednesday as the Michigan Supreme Court held oral arguments at Cass Tech High School.

Vitti told the audience, “In this room right now, someone will be inspired to be a lawyer.”

More than 700 were expected to participate in the event.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen J. Markman said he and his colleagues hopes that Wednesday’s program “will introduce students to the role of appellate courts in the legal process, while inspiring them to better understand the contributions of lawyers and judges in furthering our country’s rule of law.”

Detroit high school students Erica Powell, a Cass Tech senior, and Jose Poprawa, a junior from Western International High School, said they enjoyed following the legal arguments.

Proprawa said Wednesday’s hearing has influenced his career plans.

“I would prefer to be a judge,” Proprawa said. “I think it was a little bit helpful to understand what actually goes on for their job and how powerful they actually are when it comes to making (decisions).”

Powell said she was leaning toward a career in culinary arts but now might study law. She said the hearing highlighted how technology, such as that used in cellphones, is changing police investigative techniques and, possibly, the law.

“You literally with your cellphone ... have a camera with you at all times,” she said after the hearing. “If this were 20 or 30 years ago ... before cellphone camera, it’s amazing to think that this whole case could have took a totally different direction.”

Jones said she was pleased with the event and hope the students were inspired by seeing the legal proceedings. “I’m looking forward to knowing these are our future judges and future attorney and paralegals and all of the above.”

“ I’m hoping that they will consider to go on from an attorney to be a judge,” she said.

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