Lady Justice, or the Goddess of Justice, wears a blindfold to symbolize impartiality and holds a scale to measure the strength of two opposing sides of a case.
Judge Daniel O’Shea, the first justice at Attleboro District Court, told Attleboro High School students Friday that the figure from Roman mythology represents the rule of law and discussed why the rule of law is important.
“You want judges to be fair and impartial. To be free from pressure, if you will,” O’Shea told the 22 students in Attleboro High School in Tobey Reed’s criminal justice class.
O’Shea was one of more than 100 judges in the state who volunteered to visit schools and community organizations across the state for the second annual National Judicial Outreach Week.
The purpose of the program is to educate students and citizens about the American legal system. It is an initiative of the American Bar Association and this year’s theme was “Preserving the Rule of Law.”
O’Shea spoke about the separation of powers in the American system of government and the importance of the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights in the state constitution.
The judge said he hears cases each week in Attleboro District Court involving defendants with various problems, including mental health and drug and alcohol problems, and “people who have made bad choices.”
“It doesn’t mean they are bad people,” O’Shea said, adding that there are other defendants who appear before him with lengthy criminal records charged with more serious crimes.
In the criminal justice system, the judge said, people convicted of crimes receive punishment as a deterrent against committing more crimes, and some receive a chance at rehabilitation depending on the circumstances in a case.
The laws, like society, have evolved over time, O’Shea said, pointing out that when the country was founded, slavery was an institution. It was outlawed, however, after the Civil War and social upheaval. Other changes included the laws involving segregation and gay marriage, he said.
During a question-and-answer period, the judge said one of the most difficult cases he had to decide was one involving a woman charged with drunken driving and motor vehicle homicide in which two women, including one who was pregnant, died.
Last month, O’Shea spoke to the same students after they conducted a mock trial concerning a gruesome murder. The students also got to see real courtroom activity at Attleboro District Court.