A special view of Wyoming law

‘You only live once’

Rhett Breedlove
Posted 4/12/24

TORRINGTON – The Goshen District Court met in “session” at 8:30 a.m. early Tuesday morning.  

This would be a special session, however. One meant to educate, inform, and …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

A special view of Wyoming law

‘You only live once’


TORRINGTON – The Goshen District Court met in “session” at 8:30 a.m. early Tuesday morning. 

This would be a special session, however. One meant to educate, inform, and perhaps set tomorrow’s generation up for success rather than for dark complicated adversities. 

The morning was not to address a defendant who found themselves on the wrong side of Wyoming law, but to give a healthy and truthful view to all county eighth graders on what the law really looks like.

With not an empty seat in the district courtroom, Goshen County and Prosecuting Attorney, Eric Boyer, addressed the children with close and accurate sincerity of how a seasoned attorney would in fact address a jury.

“We are very excited to show you today just how the law, and democracy really work,” Boyer said to the children.

Over 100 eighth graders sat before the prosecuting attorney as well as district judge, Ed Buchanan, along with a long list of county officials and law enforcement personnel.

The day marked the annual and traditional day off from school for all eighth graders to participate in YOLO Day.

You only live once would be the powerful and constant message for every child sitting in the public area of the courtroom early Tuesday morning.

As they entered and filled the large room; some excited, some curious, and of course others just happy to be out of school for a while, a very imperative and nourishing approach would be taken to help this group of youngsters.

They knew they would be witnessing a trial simulation, but the question still remained, “What does a real trial truly look like?”

As the kids would soon see, a mock trial from an authentic staff of real judges, lawyers, and law enforcement does not differentiate much from the real thing.

As judge Buchanan entered the courtroom, it seemed as if it was business as usual. As all were required to rise as Buchanan made his entrance, the sound of chit-chat and giggling slowly died while the district judge took his chair, customary shining black robe clean and ready to educate a younger generation.

Despite the procedure being merely a show for all the children present, the atmosphere felt entirely much like the real thing. The kids were able to see first-hand exactly what the final stage of a legal case or felony realistically is, in this case the sentencing.

As with a real sentencing, facts were once again read regarding the case, and both sides were given a final chance to be heard including the defendant.

With both defense and prosecution counsels “recommending probation” on behalf of the “defendant charged with aggravated assault,” Judge Buchanan explained in depth the reasoning behind a looming sentence. According to Wyoming statute on this particular charge, the penalty factually carries a maximum of up to ten years of incarceration.

While both defense and prosecution “agreed” probation would be appropriate for the “defendant with a history of drug and alcohol-related infractions,” Judge Buchanan did not.

“On behalf of the state of Wyoming, I hereby sentence you to serve no less than four years no less than six, at a state correctional institution,” Buchanan said. “Court will stand in recess.”

Soon thereafter county investigator, Sergeant Herbie Irons, placed the “defendant” in handcuffs, and escorted her promptly out of the courtroom.

The entire mock hearing lasted roughly in the realm of at least half an hour. In those thirty minutes, however, the complete silence of the room hinted perceptions were altered and thoughts were running with questions.

As Judicial Assistant, Melissa Stevens, kindly introduced every present official by full name and position, numerous hands slowly but surely began to fill the air with questions.

As Stevens reminded the children once more, “You only live once.”

If something could be taken away from those words and as every attorney, police officer, or social worker in the room would explain; life is much too short to complicate it with poor decisions.

In total ambiguity of certain “scared straight” programs, perhaps which have unethically made their way onto national television in recent years, the purpose of the day was guidance, education, and peaceful yet persistent dissuasion.

Not fear.

The message to the dozens and dozens of middle schoolers sitting in the county’s only courthouse was soft but clear.

Courts do not exist to instill fear. They are there to uphold the law. As Judge Buchanan further explained, “The laws are there to keep everyone safe.”

Furthermore, the district judge additionally alluded without law we, as a society, would not have peace, we would not have happiness, and we certainly would not be civilized. In simple terms, Wyoming statute acts as a convincing deterrent for those who would proceed to intrude on the peace and tranquility of the innocent and vulnerable.

As every official in the room is entirely familiar, perhaps teaching a child fear and anger will only reinforce decisions ultimately resulting in sitting in the defendant’s chair later on in life.

“Hopefully students leave with more understanding of how the criminal justice system works in our democracy, and how democracy wouldn’t work without a justice system.” Donna Duncan of Goshen County Victim’s Assistance said. 

If there is one thing every resident in Goshen County might be able to agree on from YOLO Day; if more age-appropriate children could witness what a courtroom truly feels like in the presence of real officials, perhaps we would witness far more of them choosing trades, careers and colleges over substances, charges, and incarcerations.