Module 12: Conducting the Mock Trial
- Effectively conduct a mock trial.
- Students gain in appreciation of the difficulties of explaining scientific concepts in a courtroom setting.
The capstone of the preceding modules is the execution of a mock trial where students actually put into play the skill and experience they have developed from previous exercises. With careful planning, a mock trial is an effective method of getting students to apply module activities, giving them a unique learning experience.
Preparing for the mock trial
An important aspect of the mock trial is finding a location that mimics a courtroom setting. A consideration for conducting the mock trial is contacting the local city or county government, and inquiring about using an actual courtroom for the trial. Other options would include using conference rooms at the college or university's administrative facilities or if the university has a law department, using those court facilities for the mock trial. However, with some imagination and creativity, a standard classroom can be retrofitted to appear as a courtroom setting. Courtrooms have a somewhat standard layout. This layout can be mimicked with four tables and single chairs arranged as the jury box and spectators gallery. Keep in mind the judge should have the most prominent position in the courtroom. Another consideration, if there is a local school where stenographers are trained, consider having one of the students serve as the court recorder so that a trial transcript can be recorded in the document prepared.
Students should be given role-play assignments for the specific characters who were key players in the Woburn trial. Faculty members can consider playing the role of Judge, since the judge is responsible for maintaining the flow in the court. But all other roles should be performed by students either in the class or those volunteering to participate only in the trial. Often having "jurors" who have not been involved in the class adds a true aspect of reality to the role play. The attorneys and experts really have to convince "peers" of their positions and convictions.
The most critical component for a successful mock trial is planning and rehearsal. At least a week prior to the trial students should develop visual aids and courtroom strategies, plaintiff and defense teams should rehearse and the instructor should familiarize them with the actual trial procedure so they're familiar with the normal flow of presenting a case.
Conducting the trial
After all the planning is completed, it's time to have a mock trial. Courts run by hard deadlines, in fact for lesser offenses (traffic tickets, code violations, etc.), failure to appear in court often results in the defendant being found guilty in abstentia. So it's important that a specific time be made for the trial, and all those in the role-playing be accountable for being prepared when the trial begins. It's not likely that voir dire the required for empaneling handling the jury, particularly if the jury is comprised of volunteers. The trial process should start with the judge providing an overview of the procedures. The first active part of the trial are the opening statements by the plaintiffs and then the defense. The second part is presentation of evidence by the plaintiffs. The plaintiff attorney will take testimony from witnesses and experts, after each individual has provided the testimony the defense is then allowed to cross-examine. When the plaintiffs have concluded testimony from their witnesses and experts, it is the defense is opportunity to call their witnesses and experts for testimony. Likewise, the defense's witnesses are crossed examined by the plaintiffs councel. When both sides have concluded their testimony, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and then the defense presents the closing arguments. The plaintiffs counsel does have an opportunity to present rebuttal to the defense attorneys argument as the final part of the trial proceedings.
When the trial proceedings have concluded, the jury is dismissed from the courtroom to deliberate the verdict. Deliberations should be done away from the the court and counsel so that they can arrive and a verdict unimpeded and uninfluenced.
After the jury has delivered their verdict, an important part of the learning process includes understanding why the jury reacted as they did. This would involve polling the jury to determine what influence their vote. Keep in mind, is not necessary nor considered a failure of the process if the jury in the mock trial does not arrive at the same conclusion that the Woburn jury did. So be sure to include a postmortem from the jurors at the conclusion of their announced verdict.