Law Student: The Meaning of Explicit
From our Guest Blogger, Amanda Edmundson: My path towards the law began in ninth grade ... though in a way I suppose I could say my entire life has prepared me for this journey. I’ve always been so passionate in my convictions that my family refused (and sometimes refuses to this day) to talk to me about politics because they knew I would spout off everything I knew in the hope that they would somehow change their opinions and realize that was always right.
In ninth grade, I became a lawyer in the Court of Appeals in an exciting program my school offered called Youth in Government, a mock government where students had the opportunity to play the roles of Governor, Senator, Judge, and Lawyer. The role required me to write an appellant brief that outlined the reasons why the trial court unfairly convicted my client of distributing explicit photos to underage youth.
I was fifteen years old. As I prepared my brief for oral arguments (that, to my excitement and fear, would be heard in an actual courtroom at the state capitol), I became overwhelmed. How would I win my case? I was fifteen years old and I knew distributing pornography to minors was wrong. I believed my client was guilty. How could I possibly convince a panel of judges that the trial court had made a mistake (or, as I learned almost a decade later in law school, “erred.”)
I racked my brain for the answer, and finally, a thought came to me. What did they mean by “explicit?” Was there a way to win a case where the trial court had already determined that the facts showed my client had distributed explicit materials to a group of minors? And suddenly, it all clicked for me. The answer came to me in one of those moments of complete clarity, that later on in law school would become my lifelines. My mom took me to Barnes and Noble, and after hearing my mother object for about an hour, I bought a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine. She looked very perplexed as I told her I needed this to win my case, but she trusted me and let me buy it. I knew I could win with this approach. I believed my client had distributed pornography to minors. From the materials I had about his character, I believed my client was a creep and would do the same things again if he got out of jail. But I was going to win this case no matter what it took.
Finally the big day had arrived. Appellate brief in hand, I entered the courtroom and sat down on what I deemed to be “the good side.” After nervously listening to my opponent highlight all the reasons why my client should remain in prison, I stood in front of the panel of three judges and took a deep breath. Then I talked. In ninth grade, I can’t say I really understood the appellate court procedures. If a year in Civil Procedure taught me anything (and it taught me SO much), it’s that you aren’t supposed to introduce new ideas at the appellate level. If it isn’t brought up in the trial court, you “lose it forever.” But it happens, and I did it. I argued the meaning of “explicit.” I argued that “explicit” is subject to interpretation. And right when I knew I had caught the judges’ interest, I pulled out the copy of Cosmopolitan magazine, and turned to a page where an almost-naked woman was advertising an erotic phone chat line. I asked the judges: “Is this what they mean by explicit?” In pure dramatic fashion, I ended my presentation by saying: “I’m fifteen years old. I bought this “explicit material” all by myself at the bookstore.”
I won my case in front of three different panels of judges.
That was the first time I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. But I remember when I left the courtroom ... after a fake appellate trial of a fake case… I didn’t feel great about my win. I had won my cases by being creative and by thinking like a lawyer. But I didn’t believe in what I was doing, and felt like I had, in some way, “sold out.”
Ten years later, I had another moment of clarity that will change my life. I met Kim Wright and found restorative justice and the transformative law movement. I found my way to never again have to “sell out.”