Teens explore law careers at Learning Center

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By Cynthia Price
Legal News

A “hot-topic” case and a large team of helpful adults kept eager teenage learners at the Michigan Supreme Court Learning Cen-ter’s “Exploring Careers in the Law” fascinated and on their toes.

People v. Radandt concerns Fourth Amendment rights and the limits of police “knock and talk” procedures, where law enforcement goes to a home and attempts to obtain information. The Michigan Supreme Court issued an order on this case just last week (after the Learning Center event). The week-long program at the Hall of Justice  led students through consideration and preparation for a moot court, so they learn in a personalized way.

The case involves two police officers visiting a home based on an anonymous tip, knocking on a door without receiving an answer, and following a path to the back of the house. Once there, they knocked on a sliding glass door, and saw, heard and smelled evidence that allowed them to get a search warrant based on probable cause. The Supreme Court’s summary refers to a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Florida v Jardines.

Last month, the talented and engaged group of young learners heard, first, from a panel including the attorney from the Solicitor General’s Office who argued the case, Kate Dalzell, as well as Takura Nyamfukudza of Alane and Chartier, a defense attorney, and Ionia Circuit Court Judge  Ronald J. Schafer.

Dalzell explained that the U.S. Supreme Court had regarded similar questions in the past through the lens of  property rights. She added, “It’s difficult to create a bright line rule in these cases. You could say, police can only go to the front door, but the difficulty comes in when you have an ambiguous situation. If there’s not a clear front door, what does the normal citizen do?”

Nyamfukudza asked, “Does everybody here understand what I mean when I say that police officers are the gatekeepers to the criminal justice system?” The students nodded yes. “We find ourselves in situations where we have to trust them,” he continued. “We have the Fourth Amendment to make sure there are consequences if they do something to betray that trust.”

After the panel, the students split into small groups and worked with coaches on their arguments for the following day. Coaches included student Alan Aboona and Bruce Crews who administers the Jackson County Probate Court, as well as Jane D. Wilensky, who is trained as a Learning Center docent and serves on the Michigan Law Revision Com-mission.

Crews said that he had been extremely impressed with the high level of questions the participants asked, singling out the Grand Rapids-area students and Owen Purdue, who was designated Chief Justice in the moot court.

Purdue, who had convinced his fellow Forest Hills Northern mock trial friend Jaspreet Singh to attend, had already gone through the course in 2015. Joined by East Grand Rapids “We the People” participant Clayton deJong, the three had been able to explore some choice after-class opportunities such as seeing the rare law books library.

Says Purdue, who may pursue politics rather than a legal career, “What I’ve learned over the last two years is that the law is so much bigger than any of us ever imagined. Every piece of legal scholarship and opinion adds to the body of law. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Although Singh thinks he is still more likely to pursue the sciences, he says, “This is really educational – learning how to represent your own ideas, how to formulate those ideas better, and about how the law effects everybody, that’s good no matter what you do.”

Comments deJong, who is already working at a local law firm over the summer, “Some of the connections that Rachel Drenovsky [the Executive Dir-ector of the Learning Center] has provided for us, like getting to talk to the person who argued in the Supreme Court just now, and the lawyers we’ve met, and getting to argue in the actual Supreme Court... it’s been such a good experience.”

Students came from all over the state. Peyton Sternfeld of West Bloomfield said, “Meeting people who are in the field has strengthened my desire to go into the law. I definitely recommend the program.”

And Chika Amena of Southfield Christian added, “It’s way better than I thought it was going to be. I thought we were just going to sit and listen, but getting to participate, I’ve learned a lot. I told my mom, this makes me want to be a lawyer ten times more.”

The students’ final treat of the day was to meet Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard H. Bernstein. He explained that what he really likes is to answer questions, so the students took it away, avoiding direct questions about Radandt.

After saying he is a “huge fan” of Grand Rapids, Bernstein went on to note in response to a question about general mindset, “The way you’re supposed to do it is you’re supposed to be neutral, and we all are. Although we’ve reviewed the cases in order to accept them, so we’ve expressed what our concerns are, we listen fairly to both sides.”

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