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SnaPShot of the Week

Students Shine with Mock Trial at the Courthouse

The history of mock trials allows students to participate in rehearsed trials to learn about the legal system in a competitive manner. This year, our 8th grade Mock Trial fine arts elective students took their trial to a whole new level. Students spent twelve weeks learning about the judicial process and honing in on their acting skills in an attempt to win their side of the case. “They were given two paragraphs at the beginning of the year and had to create all of the scenarios by themselves. That is something that took me three years of law school and several years of practice to be comfortable doing” said teacher Janice Kemp who not only has a Master of Arts in Reading Education but also her Doctor of Jurisprudence. “For them to be able to do that in twelve weeks only meeting 2.5 times a week is astounding. That’s a tribute to the class and the kids.” 

Just like in real life, the trial began with the judge entering the courtroom and giving instructions to the jury; with twelve in the box, the students were ready to present. Pretrial motions were presented and then both the prosecution and the defense were allowed to present their opening arguments. 

Witnesses were one-by-one called to the stand and sworn in by the bailiff. Direct and cross examinations were tough this year as the litigators came prepared and ready to ask the hard questions. But even though there were plenty of opportunities to rehearse, just like in real life, there were some curveballs thrown into the courtroom forcing the attorney’s to pivot and think on their feet. “I was surprised when the people we were cross examining changed their answers.” said defense attorney, Finely White. “To overcome that challenge, we improvised. The pressure was on in the actual courtroom in front of parents and the jury. I love public speaking and performing, so it was really fun.”

After all of the witnesses had been called, the students addressed the jury with their closing arguments. The bailiff then took the jurors to deliberate. In this particular murder case, the jury came back with a hung jury charge. There was a celebratory “we won!” clamoring from the defense followed by a roar of laughter throughout the courtroom. Though all in good fun, the students were given the opportunity to develop critical thinking and public speaking skills, as well as gain knowledge of legal practices and procedures.

“I reflected as I watched them in the courtroom that a benefit to the class is they learned that many, if not most, stories have two sides and that it’s important to evaluate and analyze both sides.” said Kemp. “That is a skill that takes them beyond school and into the real world and is extremely critical these days. The growth of the students just blew me away.” Kemp found that some of the more quiet students in class wanted to be attorneys and loved watching them flourish in the courtroom. “The students didn’t really know what to expect walking into the courtroom and they felt incredibly privileged at the opportunity.”

At the end of trial, students (and parents) were allowed the opportunity to ask questions to the current sitting judge. “The students did an excellent job.” said Judge Andrew Wright, “I could tell that they were well prepared and were quick at thinking on their feet. They were listening and paying attention during the trial and would object when necessary. What an incredible opportunity that most attorneys don’t get to experience until law school. Congratulations to both sides for their hard work! The future looks good with future attorneys as quick and bright as you.”


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