Personal Injury

Debating Culture and the Courtroom—Past and Present

Take Action! - When Guilt or Innocence Depends on the Era

1. What do you think the outcome of Wild Bill Hickok's trial would be in the United States in 2002? Would a jury of "twenty-first century peers" convict, jail, and (perhaps) execute someone for committing the same act? Explain your answer. In your opinion, should the outcome of this trial have depended on its era? Why or why not?

2. Research some Famous Trials where jury nullification was a factor (e.g., the trials of John Peter Zenger and the police who beat Rodney King, as well as the death-penalty case Furman v. Georgia. Why do you think the jury decided to acquit in each case? Did they disagree with the law, the punishment, or something else on a cultural basis? Explain your answers. Select one case where you strongly disagree with the verdict. If you had been one of the jurors, how would you have gone about persuading the rest of the panel to vote your way?

3. Visit MSNBC.com and New York Times.com and other cable and newspaper Web sites to research the recent child-murder trial of Andrea Yates and the San Francisco dog-mauling trial of Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, both resulting in guilty verdicts. What sentences were given in each case? In Wild Bill Hickok's day, do you think the verdicts and sentences might have been different? Explain, basing your answers on your view of America's past and present cultural outlooks regarding mental illness and animal rights. For class, prepare a chart briefly outlining the arguments offered by both sides in either case. Ask the class to weight these arguments as "Very Strong," "Strong," and "Weak." Explore to what extent the students feel their opinions are based on their contemporary cultural outlooks.


Student Central | Students in Action | Debating Culture and the Courtroom—Past and Present
Cultures, Courts, and the U.S. Constitution
*When Guilt or Innocence Depends on the Era*
Changing Times, Changing Censorship | TV and the Courtroom