Grades 7-9: Due Process Freedoms
Battle for Truth/It's Your Witness
by State Bar of Texas
This lesson examines the role of the attorney in court.
When to Teach This Unit
This strategy can be used as a social studies unit on the Bill of Rights, the judicial system, and/or courtroom procedures. The only materials needed is the role play of "It's Your Witness."
Instructions for the Attorney
Before visiting the class, ask the teacher what students know about our system of justice. Are they familiar with the following terms:
- adversary system
- Ask students to define conflict and give examples. Encourage examples which are both civil and criminal. Write these on the chalkboard (theft, assault, child abuse, damage to property, divorce, car accident).
- Ask students to imagine that they lived thousands of years ago when there were no formal governments. If, for example, you had a warm deerskin jacket, what would happen if someone stole it while you were sleeping by the campfire? Discuss with students the "might is right" concept. Discuss with students the evolution of justice via medieval practices, trial by ordeal, and the Star Chamber.
- Explain that today in order to ensure justice for all, we have a legal system which guarantees due process for all. Our present system uses the adversary system to determine truth and fairness. Describe the role of the attorney.
- Discuss the right to counsel and the responsibilities of counsel to his/her clients.
- Use the activity ( "It's Your Witness") to show how the questioning skill of lawyers is important in establishing the facts of the case.
- Discuss why witnesses often disagree and the role of the attorney in this process of establishing the truth.
Questions For Discussion On Role Play
- An eyewitness account is not always absolutely accurate. If I were to ask each of you to write an account of what happened in this classroom between the last period and the beginning of my presentation, there would be many versions. How would I get to the truth?
- How does the adversary system promote truth-finding?
- Is the adversary system always the best way to resolve all legal conflicts? Are there times when the "win-lose" approach is not appropriate?
- Read the following quote by Clarence Darrow: "A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client." Ask students what the disadvantages might be in representing yourself? Advantages?
- Explain briefly to students that a lawyer will be appointed for them if they cannot afford one in criminal cases. Also explain when one is not needed: small claims court.
Excerpted from "Law in the Lone Star State," available from the State Bar of Texas.
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