Grades 7-9: Juries
What Juries Should Hear and See
This lesson requires students to generate courtroom rules that help ensure a fair trial.
Begin by determining what students know and believe about the jury system. Spend a few minutes examining their perspectives. Ask and discuss such questions as: What is the difference between a criminal and a civil trial? Who are the major "players"? Do students know anyone who has been summoned for jury duty or served on a jury? What does a jury do? Conclude by noting that a jury is expected to reach a fair and just verdict.
Tell the class that in order for a jury to reach a fair and just verdict, there are many rules on how a trial can be conducted.
Divide the class into groups of three or five. Distribute the handout (linked above).
Write on the board or overhead: "Courtroom rules are designed to ensure that the truth is found and that both parties receive a fair hearing." Direct each group to use the information on the handout to develop three rules that will help achieve this goal. One rule for the kind of questions attorneys can ask, one for witness testimony, and one for evidence that can be presented.
When the groups are finished, have each group share their rule for attorneys. Can the class agree on a consensus rule for attorney questions? Why would this rule help ensure that "the truth is found and that both parties receive a fair hearing"? How would it help a jury do its job? If time allows, ask students to generate examples of each kind of question. Continue with witness testimony and evidence in the same manner.
Do the students' rules comply with standard courtroom procedure? Provide examples.
What if there were no such rules? What challenges would a jury face then?