BANGOR, Maine — Four area high school students were honored Wednesday by the Penobscot Bar Association in its annual Law Day essay and poster contest.
This year’s theme — “The Legacy of John Adams, from Boston to Guantanamo: Does the presumption of innocence still exist today, in the face of: the 24-hour news cycle, stereotyping of disfavored groups, creation of and access to information over the Internet?” — drew 58 entrants from around Penobscot County.
In the winning essay, Teagan Cook, a junior at Dexter Regional High School, said the presumption of innocence is under attack from all sides — from teaching children not to talk to strangers, to media coverage of crimes to the stereotyping of groups.
“Judgmental attitude dominates today’s society,” she wrote. “When people see someone fat they instantly react with disgust. People don’t pause to consider possibilities. Maybe the person has a thyroid condition or an eating disorder.
“This instant judgment extends to all aspect[s] of people’s lives, and when people are deciding their opinion of an alleged criminal, this results in the destruction of the American ideal of presumed innocence,” she said in the essay.
Jordan Campbell of John Bapst Memorial High School came to a different conclusion in his second-place essay.
“Does the justice system need fixing? Yes, there are things that need fixing,” he wrote. “But the argument that a fair trial does not exist because of the media is a lie — again, all the defense has to prove is reasonable doubt — it may not happen in private, but the law is still ‘innocent until proven guilty.’”
The winning art poster was by Chelsea Kuzio, a junior at Hampden Academy, who won last year’s contest. Her submission was a pencil drawing of Lady Justice balancing media and other attacks on the presumption of innocence against the role of a jury in deciding an accused’s fate. The second place winner in the art category was Kathryn Laverdiere of Bangor High School.
The winners were honored Wednesday at a ceremony and reception at the Penobscot Judicial Center.
The contest awarded $500 and $250 prizes for first and second places, respectively. It was open to students in grades 9-12 in a Penobscot County school or to those who are home-schooled in Penobscot County in the equivalent of grades 9-12.
The bar association has offered the scholarship since 1997 in connection with Law Day, which has been celebrated on May 1 since 1958. The day was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a “day of national dedication to the principle of government under law.” During the height of the Cold War, Law Day was counterpoised against May Day as feted in the Soviet Union, according to the bar association.
The judges for this year’s contest were U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret J. Kravchuk; Seth D. Harrow of Vafiades Brountas & Kominsky; Heather L. Parent of Eaton Peabody; Steven J. Mogul of Gross, Minsky & Mogul; Jennifer L. Eastman of Rudman & Winchell; and Eugene M. Sullivan with the Joseph Baldacci law firm.