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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

Mann lets students be the judge

Monday, April 4, 2005

Scott County Associate Judge David Mann questions a student at St. Denis.
BENTON -- Scott County Associate Circuit Court Judge David Mann turned the tables on the seventh and eighth graders at St. Denis Catholic School in Benton Friday and let them be the judge.

For the past 20 of his 25 years as a judge, Mann has visited schools, churches and other organizations, talking to pre-teens and teens about the importance of making the right decisions when it comes to committing crimes, specifically those dealing drugs and alcohol.

Throughout the hour-long visit, Mann presented several different scenarios based on recent criminal and traffic court record and then let the students decide what the punishments should be.

"The whole idea is to get them to think," Mann said. "If you can talk with kids before they go to commit an act of crime, then maybe if they're ever in a similar situation, they'll stop and decide not to do it."

Before Mann told the students any scenarios, he explained the sentencing could range from jail time and probation to fines and community service.

"But if you tell me to put them in jail, then tell me how long will they be there, and if you want to give them a fine, then tell me how much," Mann said.

Mann said the fines could be from $1 to $1,000, but cautioned the students when issuing a fine to think about who is paying for it.

"A lot of the time mom and dad will want to pay the fine, and what I'll do is say the children have to pay off the fine themselves. Because if they don't do it themselves, then how are they going to learn?" Mann said.

One of the situations Mann proposed to the students was of a 17- or 18-

year-old girl who had received a minor in possession charge and two months later she was out riding around one night and her older cousin slipped her some beer outside a bar. The girl was then pulled over by a patrol officer for not using her blinker or a tail light was out and then tested intoxicated. To top it off, the next day was the girl's high school graduation.

"So she had an MIP 60 days ago, and now she's back with a DWI. She has a scholarship, and she just got excited and drank three beers. Now if you fine her, she'll lose her scholarship. And her parents can't afford to send her to college without the scholarship. What do you do?" Mann asked.

"I'd give her another chance," one student said.

Other students weren't as understanding, some fining her or jailing her, which would result in the loss of her scholarship. Mann and the students also discussed what to do with the cousin who supplied her with the beer.

In an informal setting, Mann and the students also discussed what the punishments would be for other crimes such as the possession of marijuana, stealing, receiving stolen property and if there was a difference in possessing marijuana and alcohol.

Often the teachers are taken back by the severity of the students' punishments, Mann said. For example, one student said a 17-year-old deserved a year in jail for speeding.

But as Mann told the students Friday, "There are no wrong answers."

Mann also used the time to reinforce the importance of making good decisions.

"You don't ever want to go to jail," Mann told the students. "You've heard stories about what jail is like -- well it's about 10 times worse than what you were told."

Eighth grader Austin Greer said he learned a little from Mann's visit.

"I learned to give people a fair chance and don't drink and drive," Greer said.

Typically, it's the 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds Mann prefers talking to, he said.

"You have to remember kids are three or four years older than we give them credit for," Mann said. "They've either experimented with (the drugs and alcohol) or the media has presented it to them."

Over the years Mann said he's also learned that young people expect discipline and if they mess up, they also expect to be punished. The key , though, is to make the punishment even-handed and consistent, he said.

"You have to give them a reason to tell the truth, and if you do, they'll respond,," Mann said. "They know when we're not being honest -- and they know if you care enough."