Emotional testimonies, accusations of assault and a conviction by jury were all part of a criminal court reenactment starring a handful of Dripping Springs High students Feb. 27.
The reenactment, however, also served as a sobering reminder of the impact of dating violence, a problem plaguing all communities across the nation.
The mock trial is based on the trial State v. Jamie Roberts, a real court case in Hays County where a male was the victim of a physical assault by his girlfriend. The Feb. 27 reenactment, hosted by the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center, in conjunction with the Dripping Springs ISD, relives the case while also teaching students about the dangers of dating violence.
“It’s tough to hear about these stories from students in our school, but one thing I want people to learn from the program is there are resources and people who can help you get out of these relationships,” said Rachel King, president of the Dripping Springs dating violence awareness board. “A lot of victims may not understand that this abuse is in their lives as they go through these relationships.”
In this reenactment, Jamie Roberts, played by a Dripping Springs High student, was found guilty of assaulting her boyfriend. The trial includes more than 100 students making up the jury, defense attorneys and witnesses, all filled with the same drama and debate of a real criminal trial.
The eight jury panel, consisting of 12 high school students, overwhelmingly found Roberts guilty of assault, citing a crucial piece of video evidence in the case where Roberts intentionally kicked the boyfriend.
Members of the jury said the video evidence made for a compelling guilty verdict. But Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau, who attend the mock trial, said in many of these cases video evidence is nonexistent. This proves difficult for juries and judges since a lot of evidence can be hearsay.
However, Mau admitted that domestic violence is not solved in the courtroom.
“There is a much better way to deal with these problems, rather than what I can do or the police can do,” Mau said. “What can really stop this from happening is not the threat of a fine or going to jail, but knowing this is not the way a relationship can work. This is not the appropriate way to deal with someone you claim to love.”
Mau urged students to communicate with their peers about the realities of dating violence, as high school students are more inclined to communicate with one another.
“All of these unhealthy aspects of this relationship were going on well before this case ever happened, and had these people’s friends, community and society let them know and understand that this relationship is unhealthy, this could have been avoided,” he said.
Mau said relationships are not about ownership and control, but support, respect and love. He commended the program for shedding light on dating violence, as it’s these types of initiatives that will ultimately help solve the problem.
While the lessons learned from the trial exposed the horror of dating violence, it also allowed students to have a real look at the proceedings of the court.
After a grueling five-hour trial, Hays County Associate Judge Brenda Smith commended the students as state-wide leaders in dating violence awareness. Smith led the mock trial in its entirety, and she said she was impressed with testimonies and arguments led by both teams in the case.
King said the students began preparing for the mock trial last summer, clocking countless hours to perfect the numerous components of a court case to enhance the realism of the trial.
What started as an experiment six years ago is now becoming a tradition for the students of Dripping Springs High. Every year, the students work tirelessly to make the trial better than the last. While the message is the same for the sixth straight year, the impact continues to loom large.
“Dating violence is real and it’s everywhere,” King said. “We’re trying to bring awareness to that, and hopefully it’s trials like these that stick with students so they know the signs in the future.”