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Lessons from District Attorney Weintraub

Mr. Weintraub helped students deepen their understanding of 12 Angry Men 

When Bucks County District Attorney visited New Hope-Solebury Middle School to speak with seventh graders who had just read the dramatic courtroom drama 12 Angry Men, he began by presenting the details of a crime that was brought to his desk just one month into his appointment as District Attorney.  He shared the context and facts and the complexity of the decision to prosecute a crime.

This is a similar exercise to what the students discussed in Mr. Hesney’s English class as they explored the story of 12 Angry Men, in which a jury deliberates in the trial of an impoverished youth accused of stabbing his father. In class, the students act out the play with great emotion and enjoy getting into character and utilizing props for the exercise. Shared Mr. Hesney, “We also supplement our study of the play by incorporating non-fiction articles and drawing comparisons. Through this process, students build their research and critical thinking skills.” With Mr. Weintraub, this went one step further, by showing the students how these concepts play out in the real-world and in their own community.

The students used this opportunity to ask Mr. Weintraub about his experiences, and more importantly, about his convictions. One student asked, “Have you ever had to argue something you didn’t believe?” Mr. Weintraub recalled a case where he requested to stop the proceedings in the middle of the trial because he could not in good conscience go forward. He reflected, “When you are on the defense, you have an obligation to your client to proceed. When you are on the side of the government, you have an obligation to seek the truth and justice. And sometimes, justice means not prosecuting.”

Full of insightful questions about his position, another student asked “How do you feel when you win a case? And when you lose?” In his response and throughout his presentation, the District Attorney made a case for empathy. “I try to never make it personal. There is a real person at the other end of that case. That person has thoughts and feelings just like me. Sometimes that person has done some horrible things, but that doesn’t mean I don’t treat them with dignity.” He continued, “When I win a case, I can be elated if I’m fighting for a victim and giving a victim a voice, and I can be crushed when I lose. But you have to bounce back and have a short memory, or the job can overwhelm you.”

Furthering this discussion, another student asked about the path forward for defendants and wanted to understand if the goal is to send them to prison or to support and recovery programs. Mr. Weintraub shared, “As I just mentioned, on the other end of every prosecution is a person. The majority of people make dumb decisions, they can’t get out of their own way, it was crime of opportunity, or it was a crime driven by addiction. My goal is to get at the root of why someone is committing the crime in the first place. If I can help them with their addiction, help them with a mental health issue, I hope I never see them again.”