Mock Trial

Objectives

  • To stress the importance of research in real life situations
  • To see the connection between action research and the court system
  • To connect research with social justice

Materials

  • “Scenario A” & “Scenario B” handouts (1 per participant)
  • Roles for youth (see Experience)
  • “Action Research Is” handout (1 per participant)
  • Scrap paper
  • Pens and pencils
  • Black graduation gown and gavel (optional)

Prepare Before

If possible, create scenarios of your own with local relevance to replace the provided Scenario A and Scenario B handouts. The cases that are provided in this curriculum were based on real incidents (though details of the cases have been changed or embellished to protect confidentiality). Make sure the cases hit close to home.

If possible, find older students or adults who can act as a jury and prep them ahead of time regarding their role and the case study. These people should prepare questions in advance for each character represented in the case. Whoever you find to be your “jury” will be helpful in other parts of this activity as well, especially as youth prepare their testimony. If it’s not possible for you to find a jury, you can, in the role of judge, fulfill these responsibilities.

Set up your meeting room to resemble a courtroom as best you can. Finding a gavel and a black graduation robe to wear as judge’s robes adds to the fun of the activity and gets everyone more excited and engaged in the activity.


Warm Up

Pass out copies of Scenario A to the group and have participants take turns reading it aloud. Introduce yourself as the judge, and explain that you will be presiding over this case and hearing testimony from all of the parties involved in the case. Allow the participants to ask questions about the case, and explain how the rest of the activity will run.

Experience

Next, assign participants to each of the roles of the characters represented in the case. Roles include:

Scenario A:

  • Mother
  • Father
  • Younger brother
  • Darryll’s brother’s friend
  • Darryll’s friend Luz
  • Police
  • Teachers
  • School counselors
  • Principal

Scenario B:

  • Mother
  • Stepfather
  • Younger step brother
  • DCF official
  • Attendant
  • Director of the institution
  • Emergency room nurse

It is best to have participants work in pairs or small groups, for example, having two people be the mother, two people be the police officer, etc. You may have to adapt the case and/or the number of roles according to the number of participants in your group. It is usually more fun for participants to work together in a role. This also takes the pressure off individuals while they are on the witness stand. However, you may also decide to have participants prepare and testify individually in order to increase the number of perspectives in the case. Have participants think about the case from their character’s perspective and prepare their testimony. Questions are included at the end of the scenario to help in this process. During this part of the activity, it is helpful to have adults, college interns or older youth assistants work with the participants to help develop their cases.

Once participants are done preparing their testimony, reassemble the group in the courtroom. The judge should summon each “person” (or team representing the character) to the stand. The jury should have questions prepared in advance to ask each witness. If you cannot get enough assistance to comprise a jury, you as the judge can also ask the questions. This part of the activity is a lot of fun as people begin to role play and are put on the spot in having to answer questions and defend their characters. Chances are the group will get very excited and the courtroom might get loud as the audience shouts out comments and questions. This is the time to use your gavel. Be sure to call the courtroom to order and remind witnesses they are only to respond to questions posed by the jury or by the judge. Allow each witness about ten minutes on the stand.

Reflect

Once everyone has been called, you can take a recess for about 15 minutes so the jury (or the judge) can deliberate. The jury or judge then looks at the evidence and makes a decision on the case. Be sure the decision is very carefully thought out and there is a clear rationale for it. By this time, participants have invested a lot of time and energy in taking on the perspective of their characters and will probably become somewhat defensive of the actions their characters have taken

Summarize

Call the court to order and have the jury or judge present the finding of the court. Be sure to make reference to the strong and weak points of all perspectives of the case, so participants feel presentations they have made have been acknowledged. This will also set the stage for the final step in the activity.

Demonstrate

It may be important to take a short break at this time. Usually energy is running high at this point, and it may be difficult to switch into a discussion mode. However, it is important to draw connections between the experience and the process of action research, so make sure to allow time to review the purposes of and principles behind action research. After allowing participants to debrief from the case, talk about how it was for them to take on the perspectives of their characters and have to defend their actions.

Next use the “Action Research Is…” handout as a guide to review the purposes of the activity. The Mock Court activity uses a court case as a metaphor for action research. Sometimes, we can see there is a problem, but if we don’t know what is causing it, we won’t be able to fix it. In court, the judge and/or jury try to uncover the real facts of what’s going on in order to make a judgement about it. In action research, you try to find out what’s going on so you can create a solution to a problem. In order to be an advocate for a cause or a position, people must be informed. It’s not enough to say “I think” or “I know.” You must gather information from other people, not just think that your perspective or experience is the only truth there is. The Mock Court activity reinforces that idea by having different “witnesses” talk about how they experienced an event. Following this activity, discuss how the group, though they have different perspectives, can create a joint “story” or “picture” of what’s going on in a situation in order to address the problem. The power of the group, then, rests both in the collective definition of the problem as well as the power of taking collective action to address it. Review each of the points on the handout while keeping these themes in mind.