JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Last week, the Missouri Supreme Court hosted a contingent of high schoolers from across the state for the Fourth Annual Constitution Project.
The statewide competition comprises of three sections: journalism, crime scene investigation and trial advocacy. Students are graded by professionals in each of those fields while gathering evidence from a mock crime scene, reporting on the findings of the police, and bringing the case to trial.
Texas County Associate Circuit Judge Doug Gaston founded the event in 2011 in his hometown of Houston as a way to get more high school students involved in constitutional values. In meeting with kids in Houston, Gaston said he found that many of them had interest in crime scene shows like CSI and figured it would be an interesting way to show the legal process to young adults. He added the journalism component because it seemed like a natural fit with the other disciplines being studied.
“I wanted to find a way to have our kids understand their country better and understand our constitution better,” Gaston said.
The event grew to a statewide competition in 2013.
The event is managed by the Missouri Courts’ Civic Education division and co-sponsored by the various groups that have people volunteer their time and expertise in advising the competition. Those groups include the Missouri Highway Patrol, the Missouri Sheriffs Association, the Missouri Police Chiefs Association, the Missouri Press and Broadcasters Associations, and the Missouri Trial Attorneys and Prosecutors Associations.
The crime scene investigation winners were Sperry Storm of Fulton High School for outstanding performance and Donjayla Jenkins of Cardinal-Ritter Preperatory High School in St. Louis won the outstanding achievement award. The journalism award winners were Cade Winfrey of Lebanon High School for outstanding performance and Leah Otte of Houston High School for outstanding achievement. The trial advocacy winners were Karina Bratkov of Nixa High School for outstanding performance and Jaylin Shelton of Cardinal-Ritter for outstanding achievement.
The outstanding performance and outstanding achievement awards came with scholarships of $1,000 and $500 respectively.
Lebanon High School won the team awards in trial advocacy and crime scene investigation, while Houston High School won the journalism team award.