I use this mock trial exercise to review the parts of argument with my ENWR classes, because I find that it gives the students a chance to practice making (the “lawyers”) and evaluating (the “judges”) arguments and offering reports of evidence (the “witnesses”) using a limited number of facts, a specific legal definition, and warrants. Students (even those who are usually quiet) enjoy performing the parts, and though this activity is particularly well-suited to my theme, I think it could be adapted easily to work with others. Likewise, the number of witnesses, lawyers, and judges can be adapted to suit the size of a class (e.g., for a larger class, there might be a jury and a judge rather than a panel of judges).

For the instructor:

  • Hand out the trial facts and procedures and assign parts at the end of the class meeting prior to the mock trial and ask the students to familiarize themselves with the case as homework.
  • On the day of the mock trial, give the students about 5 minutes to review the trial procedure, question “witnesses” and agree on strategy.
  • Commence the trial (the teacher may act as bailiff) and follow the procedure outlined below.
  • At the end of the trial, discuss the outcome as a class. Some possible questions for discussion: How did the judges arrive at their decision? Which witnesses were most credible and why? What was effective or not about the lawyers’ arguments?

(Handout, p. 1)

Court of ENWR 110

Stone v. Burton

Charge: Domestic Abuse

Plaintiff: Julia Stone

Defendant: John Burton

Facts

Julia, 27, and John, 29, have been dating for three months. Julia lives with her parents about three blocks from John’s home, where he resides with his aunt. Neither party is married. John and Julia had dated frequently while they were in high school and had a stormy relationship, including many loud arguments in which Julia would become agitated and John would raise his voice and use bad language. Though they never actually struck one another, John once threw a plate at Julia in the school cafeteria and was disciplined by the school. The bad feelings never lasted long, but the two had not seen each other for nearly ten years before they started dating again recently.

During the past six weeks, John has mentioned the possibility of becoming engaged to Julia, but she has been non-committal and John has not pressed the matter. Julia’s father dislikes John and has always urged her not to see him. The couple has had some trivial arguments, but not as intense as the ones they had as teenagers.

On February 6, John arrived at Julia’s home around 5:30 p.m. They had dinner reservations for 7:00 p.m. and John was early. Julia’s father, Max, answered the door and told John that Julia was not ready. They started talking, and Julia came downstairs a few minutes later when she heard raised voices. John, seeing Julia, tried to push past Max, who shut the front door on John’s foot. John yelled that this was not going to happen to him again. Julia grabbed at her father, but when John raised his arm, she ducked and fell, hurting her ankle, as she ran into the living room. Max succeeded in closing the door, while John, outside, called out that he would be back. However, he did not return that evening, and Julia sought an Order of Protection the next day.

Legal Basis of the Case

The law in this case is the domestic abuse law. If the court decides that the defendant has committed domestic abuse, it will issue a restraining order that will prevent him from contact with the plaintiff. Domestic abuse is defined as physical harm, bodily injury, or assault of a family or household member, as well as inflicting the fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, or assault. A family or household member is defined as spouse or former spouse, parent(s) and children, persons related by blood, persons who live together or have done so in the past, persons who have a child together, and persons involved in a significant romantic or sexual relationship. Keep in mind that a person has the right to use reasonable force to protect himself or herself. To find domestic abuse, 2 out of 3 judges must believe that the claim of abuse is more likely to be true than not true.

Mock Trial: Procedure

1.     Bailiff announces judges and case

2.     Prosecution’s opening statement

3.     Defense’s opening statement

4.     Prosecution’s first witness is examined and cross-examined

5.     Prosecution’s second witness is examined and cross-examined

6.     Defense’s first witness is examined and cross-examined

7.     Defense’s second witness is examined and cross-examined

8.     Prosecution’s closing statement

9.     Defense’s closing statement

10.  Judges deliberate and announce their decision

(Handout, p. 2)

Witness Statements for the Plaintiff:

Julia Stone

I am seeking protection from John because I don’t know what he is capable of doing. We argued a lot when we knew each other before but I really liked him an we enjoyed being together most of the time. I lost track of John after we graduated, but we met again recently and started going out. I was interested to see how much ha had changed. He is quieter now but we still argue a bit. My parents never like John, and thought I shouldn’t start dating him again. John has talked about getting engaged, but I am not sure I want to.

On February 6, John came to my house because we were going out to dinner. I came downstairs when I heard shouting and saw John trying to get past my father. John was angry and I grabbed for my dad’s arm to get him away from John. When I saw John’s arm go up, I thought he was going to throw something, so I ducked and ran away. I am not sure what John is capable of doing to people, and he scares me when he gets angry. Now I just want him to stay away.

Max Stone

I have never really liked John, and my wife and I were not happy when Julia started seeing him again. When Julia was in school, I told her over and over again that she should stop seeing him. On February 6, John came to the house early for a date and became abusive when I suggested he come back in a little while. I might have started yelling at him, too. When he started to come in, I tried to close the door. He shouted something at Julia, and I thought he was going to hit me. I managed to get the door closed, but he continued to shout abuse from outside.

Witness Statements for the Defendant:

John Burton

Julia and I used to date each other in high school, and even though we lost touch after we graduated, I always hoped we could get back together someday. I was so pleased that Julia agreed to start seeing me again recently. I would like to get engaged but she always changes the subject when I mention it. We argue sometimes but everybody does. I know I have a temper but I try to keep it in check, and I have never hurt Julia and never would.

I was a little early when I went to her place on February 6, but I figured we could talk or watch television before we went to dinner. Julia’s father answered the door. I know he does not like me so I tried to be polite. It didn’t work, though, because he yelled at me to leave and come back later. I had to talk louder to make myself heard. When I saw Julia, I tried to get to her to explain, but her dad banged the door on my foot. I cried out and almost lost my balance. Julia’s father slammed the door. I was really mad and yelled that I would come back later. I didn’t, though, because I thought it would be better to let things cool down.

Liz Little

I live next door to the Stone family and know them very well. I also know John Burton, because he and Julia have stopped by my house once or twice and had coffee with me. John has also helped me move some heavy things in the garden. I have never seen John and Julia fight.

I was starting my walk on February 6 when I saw John arrive. Max opened the door and was very curt with John. I heard him tell John to go away. I heard John yell back at him and saw John’s arm go up; then John almost fell backwards as the door was shutting, and I think he dropped his car keys. John hung around for a few minutes and I heard him shout that he would be back. I don’t think it was a threat. I was about 15 yards away while all this was happening.

(Assignments by Role)

WITNESS for the Defense

BEFORE CLASS:

Familiarize yourself with the facts, witness statements, and the legal basis of the case, as well as the procedure.

Giving Testimony:

Work with the lawyers from your side to help prepare questions. Don’t limit yourself to what’s on the witness statement. It’s okay to improvise answers or to say “I don’t know” when you’re being questioned. Think about the witness’s motivation for participating in the case and the story behind the facts and use your imagination to fill in the gaps. What would your character want the judges to know?

WITNESS for the Prosecution

BEFORE CLASS:

Familiarize yourself with the facts, witness statements, and the legal basis of the case, as well as the procedure.

Giving Testimony:

Work with the lawyers from your side to help prepare questions. Don’t limit yourself to what’s on the witness statement. It’s okay to improvise answers or to say “I don’t know” when you’re being questioned. Think about the witness’s motivation for participating in the case and the story behind the facts and use your imagination to fill in the gaps. What would your character want the judges to know?

PLAINTIFF

BEFORE CLASS:

Familiarize yourself with the facts, witness statements, and the legal basis of the case, as well as the procedure.

Giving Testimony:

Work with the lawyers from your side to help prepare questions. Don’t limit yourself to what’s on the witness statement. It’s okay to improvise answers or to say “I don’t know” when you’re being questioned. Think about the witness’s motivation for participating in the case and the story behind the facts and use your imagination to fill in the gaps. What would your character want the judges to know?

DEFENDANT

BEFORE CLASS:

Familiarize yourself with the facts, witness statements, and the legal basis of the case, as well as the procedure.

Giving Testimony:

Work with the lawyers from your side to help prepare questions. Don’t limit yourself to what’s on the witness statement. It’s okay to improvise answers or to say “I don’t know” when you’re being questioned. Think about the witness’s motivation for participating in the case and the story behind the facts and use your imagination to fill in the gaps. What would your character want the judges to know?

PROSECUTION: Opening and Closing Statements

BEFORE CLASS:

Familiarize yourself with the facts, witness statements, and the legal basis of the case, as well as the procedure.

Opening Statement

“Your Honors, my name is _________, and my colleague and I are representing Julia Stone in this case. We intend to prove _______________________. Please find Mr. Burton guilty of domestic abuse and grant Ms. Stone an order of protection.”

Closing Statement

(Summarize the testimony presented during the questioning in a way that will convince the judges. Ask the court to find in your favor.)

Objections

Attorneys may object to another attorney’s questions or a witness’s testimony for 4 reasons:

1.     Leading the witness

2.     Irrelevance

3.     Opinion or conclusion offered by someone who is not deemed an expert

4.     A witness’s failure to respond to the question being asked

State which reason the objection is based on. The judges will determine whether the objection is valid and sustained (prevents evidence from being introduced) or invalid and overruled (allows evidence to be introduced).

 

PROSECUTION: Examination of Prosecution Witnesses

 

BEFORE CLASS:

Familiarize yourself with the facts, witness statements, and the legal basis of the case, as well as the procedure.

Examination of Your Witnesses

Ask questions that will let your witnesses tell the complete story: How do you know the plaintiff? What do you know about the case? What happened? What happened next? What do you remember? Try to anticipate the questions and arguments the other side will use and be prepared to counter them with evidence and/or objections.

Objections

Attorneys may object to another attorney’s questions or a witness’s testimony for 4 reasons:

1.     Leading the witness

2.     Irrelevance

3.     Opinion or conclusion offered by someone who is not deemed an expert

4.     A witness’s failure to respond to the question being asked

State which reason the objection is based on. The judges will determine whether the objection is valid and sustained (prevents evidence from being introduced) or invalid and overruled (allows evidence to be introduced).

PROSECUTION: Cross-examination of Defense Witnesses

 

BEFORE CLASS:

Familiarize yourself with the facts, witness statements, and the legal basis of the case, as well as the procedure.

Cross-Examination of the Defense’s Witnesses

Ask questions to try to prove that the witness is lying or can’t remember: Isn’t it true that…? Try to ask questions with a yes or no answer (so the witness has less chance to explain himself). Try to anticipate the questions and arguments the other side will have used and be prepared to counter them with evidence and/or objections.

Objections

Attorneys may object to another attorney’s questions or a witness’s testimony for 4 reasons:

1.     Leading the witness

2.     Irrelevance

3.     Opinion or conclusion offered by someone who is not deemed an expert

4.     A witness’s failure to respond to the question being asked

State which reason the objection is based on. The judges will determine whether the objection is valid and sustained (prevents evidence from being introduced) or invalid and overruled (allows evidence to be introduced).

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Opening and Closing Statements

BEFORE CLASS:

Familiarize yourself with the facts, witness statements, and the legal basis of the case, as well as the procedure.

Opening Statement

“Your Honors, my name is _________, and my colleagues and I are representing John Burton in this case. We intend to prove _______________________. Please find Mr. Burton not guilty of domestic abuse and deny the order of protection.”

Closing Statement

(Summarize the testimony presented during the questioning in a way that will convince the judges. Ask the court to find in your favor.)

Objections

Attorneys may object to another attorney’s questions or a witness’s testimony for 4 reasons:

5.     Leading the witness

6.     Irrelevance

7.     Opinion or conclusion offered by someone who is not deemed an expert

8.     A witness’s failure to respond to the question being asked

State which reason the objection is based on. The judges will determine whether the objection is valid and sustained (prevents evidence from being introduced) or invalid and overruled (allows evidence to be introduced).

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Examination of Defense Witnesses

BEFORE CLASS:

Familiarize yourself with the facts, witness statements, and the legal basis of the case, as well as the procedure.

Examination of Your Witnesses

Ask questions that will let your witnesses tell the complete story: How do you know the plaintiff? What do you know about the case? What happened? What happened next? What do you remember? Try to anticipate the questions and arguments the other side will use and be prepared to counter them with evidence and/or objections.

Objections

Attorneys may object to another attorney’s questions or a witness’s testimony for 4 reasons:

5.     Leading the witness

6.     Irrelevance

7.     Opinion or conclusion offered by someone who is not deemed an expert

8.     A witness’s failure to respond to the question being asked

State which reason the objection is based on. The judges will determine whether the objection is valid and sustained (prevents evidence from being introduced) or invalid and overruled (allows evidence to be introduced).

 

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Cross-examination of Prosecution Witnesses

BEFORE CLASS:

Familiarize yourself with the facts, witness statements, and the legal basis of the case, as well as the procedure.

Cross-Examination of the Prosecution’s Witnesses

Ask questions to try to prove that the witness is lying or can’t remember: Isn’t it true that…? Try to ask questions with a yes or no answer (so the witness has less chance to explain himself). Try to anticipate the questions and arguments the other side will have used and be prepared to counter them with evidence and/or objections.

Objections

Attorneys may object to another attorney’s questions or a witness’s testimony for 4 reasons:

5.     Leading the witness

6.     Irrelevance

7.     Opinion or conclusion offered by someone who is not deemed an expert

8.     A witness’s failure to respond to the question being asked

State which reason the objection is based on. The judges will determine whether the objection is valid and sustained (prevents evidence from being introduced) or invalid and overruled (allows evidence to be introduced).

 

JUDGE

BEFORE CLASS:

Familiarize yourself with the facts, witness statements, and the legal basis of the case, as well as the procedure.

Trial Procedure

  1. The Bailiff will announce you. Take your seats and then tell everyone to be seated.
  2. Ask: “[Bailiff’s name], what is today’s case?” S/he will answer.
  3. Ask the prosecution and then the defense if they are ready. They will answer in turn.
  4. Invite them to make their opening statements— first prosecution and then defense.
  5. Invite the prosecution to present its case; then invite the defense to present its case.
  6. Finally, invite closing statements—again prosecution and then defense.

Objections

Attorneys may object to another attorney’s questions or a witness’s testimony for 4 reasons:

  1. Leading the witness
  2. Irrelevance
  3. Opinion or conclusion offered by someone who is not deemed an expert
  4. A witness’s failure to respond to the question being asked

If they haven’t already done so, ask them to state which reason the objection is based on. It is your job as judge to determine whether the objection is valid and sustained (prevents evidence from being introduced) or invalid and overruled (allows evidence to be introduced).

After the Presentation of Evidence

Deliberate, evaluating the case based on the following:

  1. What did each team of lawyers promise to prove? Were they successful?
  2. Were the witnesses credible?
  3. What facts were revealed in testimony?
  4. How did the lawyers use the facts to prove their cases?

Announce your verdict (2 out of 3 must agree), and explain how you arrived at your conclusion.

Bailiff

Opening of Trial

Say: “Please rise. The Court of ENWR 110 is now in session, the honorable __________ presiding.”

When asked what case is being presented, answer: “Your Honor(s), today’s case is Stone versus Burton.”

The Oath

All witnesses are sworn in before they testify; this is to remind them to tell the truth.

Say: “Please raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”