The following material is reproduced from the pamphlet "Courtroom Visits--A Guide for Teachers and Court Officials", produced by the State Bar of Michigan.
(The following) contains suggestions for those organizing educational courtroom visits for students - an activity that often brings young people a better understanding of the role of courts in our society.
Teachers, judges, and court clerks in particular will find these suggestions helpful in arranging and conducting these important educational experiences for maximum effectiveness.
- Committee on Your Legal Education
- The State Bar of Michigan
What To Do Before You Visit
At some point before the court visit date, the teacher will want to discuss with students the type of court being visited and its differences from the other courts in this state.
The function of the courts is to administer justice and interpret laws. The Supreme Court in Lansing is Michigan’s highest court. Its seven justices decide, by majority vote, appeals from the lower courts and direct the work of other courts. The Michigan Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court whose judges sit in panels to hear cases. The Court of Appeals meets in Lansing, Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Marquette.
The Circuit Court is organized along county lines, except that a group of counties may be in the same circuit (in less-populated areas.) The Circuit Court generally deals with major civil cases and felony criminal trials. The Probate Court, also organized along county lines, includes the juvenile division and hears cases on wills, guardianships, adoptions, and commitments of the mentally ill. District Courts have jurisdiction over some civil cases, misdemeanors, and other matters. Finally, there are also municipal Courts in a few cities.
All of these courts generally are open for visits by students as well as the public. It should be noted, however, that juvenile proceedings are often closed. Teachers should inquire directly of the local probate judge whether these visitations are permitted.
How to Start
Visits should be initiated by
calling the court administrator to determine the best day and time for the visit.
Good Times to Visit
Timing is important in planning an educational court visit. Days when preliminary examinations are being conducted are good days because they compress the presentation of the facts of a case into a relatively short time span. However, many examinations are waived by the defense and defendant is bound over to the Circuit Court.
Jury selection is an interesting process which helps demonstrate key points in the system.
Civil infractions and traffic violations, cases often heard in District Courts, demonstrate how the system works while dramatizing human failings, frailties and sometimes even heroics.