McKeesport students learn about justice from public defender
Allegheny County Public Defender Elliot Howsie was at McKeesport Area High School Tuesday talking to students about the law.
“‘Judge Judy' is not really how things work,” said Howsie, who told social studies students at his two morning lectures that his goal was to give them an outline of how the legal procedure works for someone who's been accused of a crime.
Many students admitted to being fans of the aforementioned TV show and were quick to supply common legal phrases like “probable cause” and “plead the Fifth Amendment,” though the discussion demonstrated they were less aware of how such concepts are applied within the legal system.
Howsie, who has been chief public defender since March, tried to sort out some of the confusion. The chief defender said he's observed that students often visit the courthouse to examine how that particular aspect of the law works but don't understand the process leading up a person's day in court.
The defense attorney used a traffic stop on a student driver as a starting point to show how the criminal justice system functions.
Student Treysaun Tillman, 14, offered himself as a defendant for the hypothetical case, suggesting to the guest speaker that he was driving a Bugatti sports car when police pulled him over.
Howsie tweaked the scenario a bit — “Let's say you're driving a Cavalier” — then explored how the situation could proceed.
Suspected for being an underage driver, the police make the traffic stop. The officer notices the smell of marijuana in the car and conducts a visual search from outside the vehicle based on the reasonable suspicion the drug may be inside the vehicle. Supposing he sees marijuana in an open ash tray or on the seat, the officer would have probable cause to search the interior of the car, Howsie explained.
“It's our job to test the evidence,” said Howsie, who was accompanied by his first assistant Shanicka Kennedy.
Kennedy discussed how information from Facebook, phone texts and other electronic sources can be admitted as evidence in court.
Noting that people use texts as a means of threatening and fighting with each other or post photos of themselves online with stolen or illegal goods, she said, “All of that information can come into play.”
“You need to be very careful how you are presenting yourself to other people,” she advised.
Howsie, who noted he and Kennedy are the first African Americans to have their respective positions in the public defender's office, advised students on career and educational choices and conduct in college.
The high school's college access counselor, Bill Starry, helped organize the attorneys' visit to the school. He said the district was pleased to have the speakers because of lessons they can impart in terms of career planning and the social studies curriculum.
Chandlar Barfield, 14, said she found the discussion interesting and informative.
Chandlar said she watches many of the court programs on television and has read a bit on the law.
As for a career choice, she said, “It would be a good thing to go into.”
Treysaun said afterward that he also learned much from the discussion and added, “I got his card.”
Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kaboly: Steelers fill biggest needs by drafting defensive players
- Bird flu ravaging commercial flocks remains mysterious
- Santucci repeats as Pittsburgh Marathon winner; Njoroge wins men’s race
- Jeannette man killed in Hempfield crash
- Marathon takes over streets of Pittsburgh
- Kennywood Park opening day ends early because of disruptive crowd
- Remains discovered in Beaver County park
- Penn State tight end James, a South Allegheny grad, goes to Steelers in 5th round
- Steelers notebook: Harrison will play fewer snaps this season
- Rossi: Pittsburgh could show NFL a draft party
- In Pittsburgh, racial strife simmers in uneasy calm