Chapter 13: Classroom Activity
Mock Trial scenarios #1 and #2
Notes on conducting mock trials
Purpose of activity
To introduce students to the concept of “civil rights” and the fundamental notions of justice and equal protection for all citizens regardless of race, gender, religion, or national origin.
To contrast today’s notion of “equality before the law” and the “equal protection of the laws” with early nineteenth century legal practice.
To introduce students to the way in which the criminal justice system frames issues of “hate” and bias-motivated violence.
To examine the way in which stereotypes, mythology, and misinformation about various groups affect the criminal justice system and the administration of justice in a system which prides itself on “objectivity” and “fairness."
Mock Trial scenario #1
Date of incident: October 5, 1991 at approximately 8:00 pm
Place of incident:
Center MBTA Station
An African-American male, approximately sixteen years old, is waiting for the train with his girlfriend, who is white. Also on the platform are three white males, whom he does not know, but whom he recognizes as students at the same high school he attends. He believes they are seniors.
The girlfriend tells her boyfriend that the three white males are staring at them and whispering to one another. The African-American male grabs his girlfriend’s arm, and takes her further down the platform. The three white males start to walk down the platform toward them when a train pulls into the station. All parties attempt to enter the same car on the train. As the couple walks toward the open doors of the train, one or more of the white males push the African-American male from behind. The African- American male hears someone say “nigger” and “stay away from her.” The victims begin to turn around when the African-American male is punched in the chest and the left side of the head.
A witness who was also waiting for the train yells out for help. The MBTA police arrive and arrest the three white males. They are charged with assault and battery, and civil rights violations.
The scenario can use either the charge of civil rights violation under MGL c265.37 or C265. 39.
Mock Trial scenario #2
Date of incident: December 24, 1990 at approximately 6:30 pm
Place of incident: Christy’s Market in
A twenty-five-year-old Asian male walks into the market to make a few last minute Christmas purchases. As the store is near his home, he knows the clerks who work there from previous visits to the store. There are two other men in the store.
One of these men (Defendant #1) states to the man, “You don’t belong here, get out now!” The man makes his purchase, wishes the clerks a happy holiday, and proceeds to leave. Defendant #1 and his friend (Defendant #2) follow the man outside.
The man who made the purchase was then severely beaten by the Defendants #1 and #2. During the assault, the man was called a “gook” and was told “to go back to where he became from.”
The Brookline Police Department responds to the scene. Both defendants are charged with assault and battery, and civil rights violations with bodily injury.
Notes for mock trials
The following are some general points of information about the roles of the prosecution and the defense in criminal court. You should refer to both sections so that you are aware of what your adversary’s role is in addition to your own. Samples of questioning are included.
Your responsibilities include presenting evidence on behalf of the Commonwealth to the judge and jury. Your responsibilities will include identifying those witnesses who best support the facts of the case.
Generally speaking, police officers are seen as allies in the effort to prosecute. Police officers are therefore called to present the evidence, including police reports, as they found it. In this exercise, we do not use exhibits of evidence (like police reports), but rather we rely on testimony as the only evidence in the case. You may wish to call the victim and witnesses to support your case. Police officers are included as witnesses.
Do not worry about the rules of procedure in the courtroom. The teacher/facilitator will assist you in that regard. Questioning of witnesses on the stand will also be guided by the facilitator. In general, remember to try and ask specific questions which are not too leading. Keep in mind that you are presenting evidence, piece by piece. This is much like a comic strip: you present the evidence frame by frame. Each witness may be able to testify to a “frame."
Closing arguments are an opportunity to briefly review the evidence that you have presented. This may include drawing attention to particular pieces of evidence that you view as key to the prosecution.
One warning: prosecution of civil rights cases is extremely difficult. You must convince the judge or jury not only that a crime occurred (e.g. threats, assault, property destruction), but that it occurred because of animosity or hatred by the defendant based on the defendant’s perception of the victim. Remember that “reasonable doubt” is often a difficult hurdle to overcome in a jury’s mind.
The following is a basic outline for questioning witnesses (called direct examination) based on the mock trial scenario:
Drawing attention to the date and time in question
- Where are you at that time? Who were you with? What were you doing?
- Did you see anyone else at the (location)?
- Did you know those people? If so, how did you meet them?
- How were those people acting?
- What did the defendants do at that point?
- At that time, did something happen with respect to (an event, the entrance of an object or person, etc.)?
- What did you do?
- What did the defendants do?
- Did you hear any statements at this time? What did you hear? Do you know who said them? Who? Upon hearing those statements, what did you do?
- As you turned, can you describe what happened? Where were you struck? What were you struck with? How many times were you struck? Were you struck anywhere else? Where? Who struck you?
- What happened to your body as a result of that contact?
- Were other people present at this time? Do you know who they were?
- Do you see the person who (stated, acted, assaulted you, etc.) in the courtroom today? Could you point that person out to the court?
These types of questions should provide you with a general understanding of how to ask witnesses about events. Do not try to have witnesses testify to opinions, events they did not see or hear, or make references to events or statements that have not already been testified to. Try and build the strongest possible case based on what each individual can testify to.
Your main responsibility is to defend your client against all charges to your fullest ability.
Generally speaking, you wish to cast doubt on the statements made by the prosecution. This is generally done on cross-examination, the time in which you question a witness about statements they made on the stand. You may do this by drawing as much specific detail as possible to the damaging statement, if you believe you can discredit it. Common areas where this is done include identification of suspects (usually your clients), and statements about events (including the elements of the crime). You may wish to draw attention to the environment (highlighting areas that may cast doubt on statements by pointing out that an area was darkly lit that there were other people present, that statements might have been made by other people, etc.).
One example of this is below. This is an example of cross-examination questions directed at a witness who has testified to an assault:
- “You have testified that there were other people present at that time, haven’t you? Is it possible that one of those other people…”
- “You stated that you were scared when you were struck…(proceed to attempt to discredit the witness by drawing attention to their emotional state at that time)...”
- “You testified that when you were punched (minimize by using words like 'brushed' or 'touched' rather than punched) you were stunned, isn’t this correct? Well then, if you were stunned, how can you be sure…”
- “You have stated that you were pushed from behind, isn’t that right? Well then, how could you possibly see who pushed you?”
- “You have testified that you heard the word “___________” (any pejorative). But you cannot definitely state who used that word, can you? How so?”
In defending someone charged with a civil rights violation, one defense technique is to attribute the incident to some other fact (an argument over an intimate relationship, misunderstanding, or other extraneous event). You may run the risk of ignoring the non civil rights charges, but often times defendants are most worried about civil rights charges and will request that those be most seriously defended.
Some defense attorneys will play to the jury on biases, bigotry and stereotypes. One example of this is to draw attention to the prejudices held about the victim’s protected class. For example, in a gay-bashing case the defense attorney may try to insinuate that the victim was “cruising” the defendant; in an assault on an African American or Latino, the defense may attempt to show the defendant was acting in “self defense."
Remember, the burden of proof is placed on the prosecution. Attempt to show that your client did not commit an act of animosity because of the victim’s protected class.
You must also decide whether or not to put your client on the stand. You are not penalized for not doing so: the jury can make no inference about the defendant’s decision not to take the stand. In most criminal cases, the defendant does not.
If you do choose to put your client on the stand, remember that he or she can be cross-examined by the prosecution. This does involve some risk.
You may wish to call witnesses of your own if they provide some evidence not previously presented. This may include presenting alibi witnesses.
The closing argument is an opportunity to review briefly the flaws in the prosecution’s case and to review any evidence that you might have presented in support of your client.
Questions for discussion after the mock trial has been concluded:
- What is meant by the term “civil rights”?
- What is a “civil rights violation”?
- How difficult do you think it is to prove that a “civil rights violation” has taken place?
- How might an incident such as the ones described above been treated before the Civil War?