Defense counsel Nicole Leftwich, flanked by Bennett High School classmates Barbara Jones, left, and Melissa Hyla, raises an objection during mock trial competition. Scores of teen-agers packed an Erie County courtroom Tuesday evening to hear arguments on whether cocaine found in a young woman's backpack could be used as criminal evidence.
Supreme Court Justice Patrick H. NeMoyer heard two hours of arguments by seniors from Holy Angels Academy, representing the prosecution, and Bennett High School, handling the defense.
The two teams were the Erie County finalists out of 40 schools competing in the High School Mock Trial Tournament, sponsored by the bar associations of Erie County and New York State.
"Your honor, this case is about the reality of law and order," Nora Collard said in her opening statement. "Police officers cannot be everywhere at the same time."
"Nothing happened during this traffic stop to justify a search," Barbara Jones said in her opening remarks. "And Josie Winters was never asked permission to search her backpack."
The facts of the case: Three teens arrive at the train station from a weekend trip and are nervously waiting their ride home. Officer Chang asks what's up, and they say their parents are late with the car.
Suddenly the villain of the case, Sunny Lee Rae, arrives and circles the parking lot in her car. The teens run outside and accept a ride.
A railroad employee supposedly overhears Sunny Lee remark to one of her passengers, "Man, that looks like good stuff!"
Following them, Officer Johnson stops Sunny Lee on suspicion of drinking from a beer can and not fastening her seat belt. A search finds cocaine in Josie Winter's backpack.
One of the passengers, played by Danielle Rafferty, described the discovery of the white powder. So defense lawyer Melissa Hyla asked how the witness got off without being charged, too.
"As long as you were in agreement with the prosecution, right?"
"Objection!" said Joanne Lobaugh from the prosecution table.
Officer Chang, played by Tanya Rinehart, testified that the kids at the station looked suspicious and were "short on cash," indicating that "they spent too much of their money on drugs."
After prosecutor Kathleen Diina and defense lawyer Nicole Leftwich held a sidebar conference with the judge, the defense called Colin Davis, in the role of the railroad employee. He testified that police liked to harass young passengers at the station and he saw nothing suspicious about these kids.
"You weren't employed as a police officer, were you?" Ms. Lobaugh demanded during cross-examination. "You weren't being paid to investigate drugs, were you?"
Called next was Sunny Lee Rae.
"I was looking for a friend due on the evening train, but he wasn't there," she explained. "I saw the little sister of a friend and asked what the heck she was doing there. I offered them a ride."
She denied that she stayed in her car because she feared police would be hanging around the train station.
"Didn't you swear under oath, 'I stayed in my Dad's Explorer mostly because I knew those places are frequented by cops'?" prosecutor Norah Collard demanded, brandishing an affidavit.
"That was one of my reasons," Sunny Lee said, straight-faced.
Laughter in the gallery.
"Did you look at Josie's backpack and say, 'Man, that looks like good stuff'?"
"Yes, I did."
"Weren't you previously convicted of resisting arrest and vehicular manslaughter?"
"Nothing further, your honor."
In their closing arguments, the prosecutors said officers searched the car as a safety measure, knowing Sunny Lee had a criminal record. The defense pointed out that Josie Winters never gave consent to open her backpack.
Before ruling on the admissibility of the cocaine as evidence -- signaling which side had won the mock trial -- Judge NeMoyer gave a critique of each side.
The court's ruling:
"I find for the prosecution."
The Holy Angels lawyers and witnesses will represent Erie County in the regional mock trial, meeting the Chautauqua County finalists on April 3.