Criminal Justice class witnesses functions of county court system


Twenty students enrolled in Becton’s Criminal Justice elective attended a field trip to the Bergen County Courthouse on April 27.

Jenny Marcinkowski, Lead Editor: District Initiatives & Community Affairs

Ms. Dizon’s Criminal Justice class visited the Bergen County Courthouse located in Hackensack on April 27. During the trip, 20 students were given the opportunity to tour the courthouse and old jail, as well as experience a live sentencing.

Immediately after Becton students passed security, two courthouse employees showed them around the rotunda area of the building and educated them on the building’s architecture and specifically how it differentiates from the other courthouses. For instance, they were told that the Hackensack building was designed by James Riely Gordon who had to win a lottery-style competition in order to be able to design it. In addition, the guides informed the students that underneath the dome, which was modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, there used to be a fountain, but due to leaks, it had to be removed.

Students were given a chance to examine the rotunda.
The courthouse is located on Main Street in Hackensack.

A topic that students found particularly interesting was a list of celebrities that have visited the courthouse. Comedian Tracy Morgan and Rapper Fabulous arrived there for jury duty, while Comedian Chris Rock visited the courthouse to settle his divorce.

Following the tour of the rotunda, students entered the courtroom of Judge Peter J. Melchionne, a judge for the family division. Judge Melchionne is also a Becton graduate and is the husband of Mrs. Melchionne, Becton’s attendance officer. He spoke to the class about the family division and its subsidiaries.

“I am so appreciative of his time and interest in talking to our class. He not only spoke about the history of the court systems, but also gave a very honest summary of the highs and lows of his job as a family division presiding judge. I also think it was inspiring for the students to hear how he was once a student at Becton just like all of them,” stated Ms. Dizon.

Moreover, he presented his experiences as a judge and enlightened them on the various other professions in the courthouse that do not involve completing law school. The group was also introduced to the courtroom clerk and the residing police officer and was lectured in regard to their responsibilities.

Students took a tour of the jail cells.

Afterward, the students were given a tour of the old jail. The jail was constructed in 1912, and unlike the rest of the courthouses, it has not been modernized. As of 1993, the jail has been inactive, and throughout, one can see the cells deteriorating. One portion of the jail showed mannequins dressed as prisoners, which gave the students an idea of a prisoner’s life back then.

The jail housed roughly 30 cells and some of the most famous prisoners included Frank Sinatra and the infamous Richard Kuklinski who also known as the “Iceman”. Due to Kuklinski’s massive size, they had to repurpose a sheriff’s office to accommodate him.

The Bergen County Courthouse dates back to 1912.

Prior to lunch, the group was given  the chance to sit in on a few of Judge Margaret M. Foti’s cases because sentencing normally occurs on Fridays. The only case included a man being sentenced to three years in the New Jersey State Prison.

“Students were able to see Judge Foti make very difficult decisions based on the actions of the convicted individuals,” Ms. Dizon said.

“Overall, I hope students enjoyed the trip, but I also hope that they were able to appreciate the tour and all of the things we witnessed and learned throughout the day. What we experienced on Friday allowed our class to come to life. Students were able to watch real cases unfold as they followed standard court procedures. They also got to learn about the different roles and positions the employees at the Hackensack Courthouse have,” the history instructor said.