NP3’s Court Decides Student Cases

THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

Natomas Pacific Pathways Prep High School students now run the first-ever Student Court at NP3 High School.

NP3 is a law-based high school, in partnership with the McGeorge School of Law and the University of the Pacific, introducing students to the justice and legal system through curriculum.

Student Court is a new elective class added to the NP3 schedule this past fall. Students enrolled in Student Court are known as the Peer Court Team. The goal of the class is to improve relationships and behavior between students and their peers.

“I think Peer Court is a really great opportunity for the students of NP3 to get involved and participate in the law-related curriculum,” NP3 senior Loriza Khan said. “It provides real-life experience, which in turn serves as a deterrent for those who go under trial for any misbehavior.” 

This Peer Court Team consists of the NP3 high school juniors and seniors. The team works with local defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges to learn judicial procedures with offenders their own age — their peers. A total of 13 students serve on the team.

During class, the Peer Court Team practices fake trials to better understand the legal process. Students analyze these cases and develop arguments for both the prosecution and the defense. Students also learn many legal terms are used in court which they later use during NP3 student hearings.

The Peer Court Team students were sworn into silence by Federal Judge, Magistrate Kendall J. Newman on Jan. 10 in Sacramento Superior Court. All Student Court cases are kept confidential and student participants may not talk about trial to those who are not on the team.

For this first year, NP3’s Student Court handles only cases with 11th and 12th graders who have broken school rules such as cyber-bullying, cheating and plagiarism.

Once a student has broken a school rule, they are given the option to be punished by Principal Tom Rutten or they may request a hearing with the Peer Court Team. If the student chooses a hearing, it is the team’s job to hear the case in Student Court.

The Peer Court Team conducts its hearings on the school campus. The team is divided into a prosecution and a defense side and there are three judges.

Prosecutors seek the highest punishment for the student while the defense seeks a less severe sentence. After the defendant and the witnesses have given their testimony, the whole team considers what punishment the student should receive. Student judges make the final decision.

Punishment tends to be less harsh and steer away from student suspensions because the Peer Court Team believes being suspended doesn’t always help rule breakers. Community service and apology letters are often required.

The goal of the Student Court process is to help students solve their problems and prevent them from making the same mistakes again. In most cases, teachers also participate as witnesses to discuss the student’s behavior in their classes. After the hearing, the peer team evaluates the circumstance of the student’s behavior and has suggestions to help improve their future behavior.

“Instead of just the school administration punishing students, Peer Court helps better those who break the policies by finding the root cause for breaking the rule,” said NP3 senior Asad Akthar, a student in the program.

Akthar has served as a judge for two cases and would like to pursue a law career. He said the Peer Court Team is a great experience for those who want to go into law or political science because it allows one to understand legal process. 

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