with Jayne Besjak
Theory of the Case
We used the beginning of class this week to review important concepts and terminology students have been studying in preparation for conducting a mock trial. The overall trial procedure (the steps in a trial), courtroom participants and their responsibilities, and the differences between criminal and civil trials should now be familiar territory for students.
Using our example case of McGregor vs. Peter Rabbit we discussed how lawyers develop a theory of the case or "storyline" that describes events from their perspective to argue effectively for either guilt or innocence. This story must be backed up with supporting facts, evidence, and witness testimony. The discussion of these concepts seemed rather abstract to students until they once again broke into teams and began to dig into the details of the tale and pull out specific information to formulate their arguments.
Students worked in prosecution and defense teams (six students per team) to brainstorm and develop strategies for arguing their side of the case. Two students on each team were tasked with drafting an opening statement and four students on each team were responsible for identifying facts, evidence, and witnesses to support their theory.
It was very interesting to watch students initially struggle to come up with a direction forward, not knowing where or how to begin articulating their theory. But after searching the story and mulling over ideas with teammates, they arrived at some exciting "aha" moments and their theories began to take shape and build momentum. Students started looking at the subtleties of the story, reading more carefully to interpret precisely what had occurred. They began to see nuances in the characters and thinking creatively about how the pieces might tie together to help form their case. By the end of the class, both sides had formulated their theory, written opening statements, and compiled a list of witnesses to question. Way to go teams!
The purpose of the opening statement is to introduce to the jury the facts of the trial. Students have learned that an opening statement basically paints a picture of how the trial will proceed and outlines what the evidence will show or prove. This of course is a direct out-growth of the overall theory of the case. The delivery of the opening statement should flow naturally and keep the attention of the jury. We will work on these and other aspects of public speaking throughout the semester.
There was just enough time at the end of class for each side to quickly run through their opening statements. We will hear these again next week as part of the entire trial of McGregor vs. Peter Rabbit.
Homework - Final Preparation for Trial!
Next week students will conduct the mock trial of McGregor vs Peter Rabbit, including opening statements and direct and cross examination of witnesses. This will be an example run through of the mock trial process, and there is no expectation that students will be fully prepared for every aspect of the trial. The purpose is to walk through the trial together as a learning experience so that all students become comfortable with the trial procedure. We will be pausing many times throughout the trial to answer questions and to discuss protocol for questioning witnesses, making objections, etc.
EVERYONE should read and re-read the Tale of Peter Rabbit so that you know the facts cold and are prepared to make your best argument.
Prosecution and Defense teams should come prepared with:
My understanding at the end of class is that both sides have prepared this information. However, it may be necessary for teammates to communicate and coordinate this week to finalize the work. If you do not have contact information for your team, please email me and I will provide that for you. For those responsible for delivering the opening statements - make sure both teammates are involved and communicating on the final draft of the statement.
If anyone has any questions about the homework, please contact me.
Looking forward to seeing all of you in court next week!