Teens explore law careers at MSC Learning Center

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By Cynthia Price
Legal News

A “hot-topic” case which has yet to be resolved and a large team of helpful adults kept eager teenage learners at the recent Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center’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, and though the Michigan Supreme Court has heard oral argument, there is as yet no opinion. The week-long program at the Hall of Justice led students through consideration and preparation for a moot court held on the Friday, so they learned 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.

The young learners, who came from all around the state, 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 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, 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, and Jane D. Wilensky, a Learning Center docent who serves on the Michigan Law Revision Commission.

Crews said he had been extremely impressed with the high level of questions the participants asked.

 Student Owen Purdue took part last year and this year was designated Chief Justice in the moot court. “What I’ve learned over the last two years is that the law is so much bigger than any of us ever imagined,” he said. “Every piece of legal scholarship and opinion adds to the body of law. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein explained that what he really likes is to answer questions, so the students took it away, avoiding direct questions about Radandt.

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 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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