Lakeland Community College paralegal, criminal justice students get hands-on learning opportunities

Jan. 16—Paralegal and criminal justice students at Lakeland Community College continue to experience advanced hands-on learning as the respective programs work to immerse enrollees in elements beyond a typical classroom setting.

Paralegal program students, along with area high school students interested in legal careers, recently went on a courthouse tour and attended a criminal sentencing at the Lake County Courthouse in Painesville, where they listened to Common Pleas Judge John P. O'Donnell expound his considerations before imposing a sentence.

They also heard perspectives from the assistant prosecutor and public defender assigned to the case and later reviewed a summary of the offense, the defendant's plea and potential sentences.

Lakeland Paralegal Program Coordinator Wendy Smither described the tour as an invaluable opportunity for students to step into the world of law.

"Experiencing this courtroom process firsthand gives great insight into the real-world workings of the court," she said. "This (visit) brought textbooks to life and enhanced our students' understanding of criminal law."

In addition, Smither noted, students had the opportunity to speak with O'Donnell about the field of law.

According to college officials, the associate degree and certificate programs, approved by the American Bar Association, prepare paralegals for in-demand jobs at law firms, corporations, banks, insurance companies, government agencies and other organizations requiring legal expertise.

Additionally, Lakeland's Advanced Crime Scene Investigation class is utilizing "creative" mock crime scenes on campus to challenge students with practical forensic examination scenarios, including a new clandestine grave site excavation exercise.

The course — taught by Dan Winterich, a retired law enforcement agent and professor in the criminal justice program — features three elaborate simulated crime scenes for students to methodically investigate throughout the semester.

Moreover, the class provides direct practice in extracting evidence, documenting scenes and building homicide cases.

"The purpose of this class is to teach students the real-world skills to be successful investigators," Winterich said. "These advanced skills will allow them to be competitive in the job market."

With a Faculty Challenge Grant from the Lakeland Foundation, Winterich purchased forensic excavation tools and two "anatomically correct" skeleton models to make up the mock grave scene.

Students photographed the area, sketched the scene, and dug up the soil to uncover evidence using proper archaeological techniques, he noted.

Criminal justice students also collaborate with information technology and computer science program students by partnering in the cyber forensics class, with collected data extracted from digital devices, which mirrors how law enforcement often works with forensic experts in real investigations.

Winterich said he bases and designs his case scenarios for the class on his 21 years of law enforcement experience and investigations in over 1,100 cases.

"We are giving students a true-life simulation that will help them make a difference in their (respective) fields and future forensic careers," he added.

According to the college, the program continues to foster close ties between academic teachings and applied engaged experience.