January 17, 2019

Lesson one: Could Minority Report be right?

Lesson Description 

This lesson asks students to consider the fictitious futuristic criminal justice system depicted in the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie, Minority Report.  Students answer these questions, “Could the 2054 DC Precrime system be right?  Could it produce fair results?  Could it be just?  Is it possible?”  Students will evaluate the fundamental principles and values upon which the US criminal justice system has been built.

Objectives

Students will increase their understanding of underlying principles and values in our criminal justice system.

C3 Framework for Social Studies Standards

D2.Civ.10.6-8. Explain the relevance of personal interests and perspectives, civic virtues, and democratic principles when people address issues and problems in government and civil society.

GRADES

9-12

DURATION: 

One class period

MATERIALS: 

Descriptions of present-day U.S. criminal justice system and a fictitious futuristic precrime criminal justice system portrayed in the 2002 movie, Minority Report, which was based on Phillip K. Dick’s short story.  Student handout on assigned role.

PROCEDURE:

1.  Introduction
The US criminal justice system is built on principles of procedural fairness.  For example, a crime is committed when a person commits an act that is clearly defined as illegal under the law.  The system presumes the defendant is “innocent until proven guilty.”  A person’s liberty is not deprived without “due process of law.”  Those accused of crimes have constitutional protections including a speedy and public trial and the right to remain silent.  The state must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  And legal errors can be corrected in an appeals process.   How important are these principles to our society?  By peering into a fictitious futuristic criminal justice system in the movie, “Minority Report,” we can better understand our own criminal justice system.
2.  Introduce 2054 DC Precrime system by viewing selected scenes from the 2002 movie, Minority Report, based on Philip K. Dick’s short story.  Here is a summary of the film’s premise and depiction of an alternative criminal justice system:

The year is 2054. The place is Washington DC where futuristic skyscrapers coexist with the famous Washington monuments and houses from the 19th century.  John Anderton is the chief of the Department of Pre-Crime in the District of Columbia.  “Pre-Crime” describes the district’s criminal justice system because it prevents crimes before they can happen.  In the six years it has been in operation there have been no murders. 
Anderton presides over an operation controlling three "Pre-Cogs," precognitive humans who drift in a flotation tank, their brain waves tapped by computers. They're able to pick up thoughts of premeditated murders and warn the cops, who swoop down and arrest the would-be perpetrators before the killings can take place. 
In the first scene of the movie, the Pre-Cog Agatha has a vision of a double homicide and speaks the words, “murder.”  Her mind’s images produce a “red” ball indicating that a crime of passion, a murder without premeditation, will soon take place.  The red ball identifies the future murder victims.  The case is numbered and the investigation begins. 
Anderton calls witnesses to verify Agatha’s images as he manipulates them on a computer interface that floats in mid-air.  In a process called ‘scrubbing the image’ the investigators look for clues as to the location of the crime and the identity of the future murderer.  Police dispatch to the scene and at the last possible moment arrest the defendant, Howard Marks, before he commits the act of murder.  Marks is arrested for the future murder of two victims and is sent to prison. 
The following scene plays a commercial promoting the DC precrime system as part of a proposed nationwide initiative.   Potential victims tell how they were saved from future crimes.  The commercial claims precrime never gets it wrong, but leaves the viewer wondering if the system is always right. 

View these scenes:

Minority Report Movie Trailer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGWQYgZZEEQ

Scene 1:  Pre-Crime Unit investigates a future murder https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yt9aMZQWyU

Scene 2:  Arrest of Howard Marks and National PreCrime initiative commercial
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmSarhudhiY

3.  Class discussion on the 2054 DC Precrime unit: 

  • What is a crime?
  • Who is a criminal? 
  • How is guilt determined?  Summarize how the Precrime system works.
  • How do you view pre-cogs?  Are they eyewitnesses?  Could pre-cogs ever really exist?  Do they predict crime or prophesy about it?  Do they get it right?  What happens if they are wrong? 
  • What does 2054 DC Precrime system tell us about our criminal justice system?

4.  Describe general steps taken in the two criminal justice systems.


General steps

US Criminal Justice system

2054 DC Precrime Unit

Crime

  • criminal act (conduct that is prohibited by law) takes place

 

  • crime is reported
  • criminal act (conduct that is prohibited by law) is going to happen in the future
  • 3 pre-cognitive beings housed in the pre-crime laboratory have visions of future crimes
  • a vision triggers an alarm

Investigation

  • police gather physical evidence, interview witnesses, question suspects
  • police seek search and arrest warrants from judge
  • attorneys for the state decide whether to charge the crime
  • defendant has right to lawyer

 

  • vision is analyzed by police detective at Precrime unit
  • police arrest “criminal” prior to committing crime

 

Trial

  • judge rules on reliable and relevant evidence to be presented at trial,
  • witnesses testify
  • prosecution has burden of proof in proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
  • defendant has right to cross-examine witnesses, present own witnesses and right to remain silent, et.al.
  • judge instructs jury on law
  • Jury considers evidence and law to determine guilt
  • Trials are open to the public
  • recording of vision is only evidence presented to witnesses in conference call
  • pre-cog images determine guilt

Punishment

  • judge sentences guilty person
  • judge sentences guilty person

Correcting mistakes

  • defendant can appeal to a higher court to review record for legal errors
  • no formal review
  • visions are kept in a vault
  • possible existence of a minority report doubting the certainty of vision

 

5.  Divide class into pairs or small groups.  Assign each group a role in the criminal justice system. 

  • Group 1 - you are a witness
  • Group 2 - you are a police investigator
  • Group 3 - you are a prosecutor
  • Group 4 - you are the defendant
  • Group 5 - you are a judge
  • Group 7 - you are a juror

6.   Complete student handout in your group discussion using the chart on general steps in each system.  Student handout asks students to compare/contrast assigned role in both the present and futuristic criminal justice system.  Students discuss the question:  Could the 2054 DC Precrime system be right?  Could it produce fair results?  Could it be just?  Is it possible?

7.  Each group reports to class their answer to the question:   

  • According to your role’s perspective, does the Minority Report get it right or wrong?  Does the precrime system produce fair results?

8.  Conclusion

  • The 2054 DC Precrime Division is a futuristic fictitious system not intended to be a viable system.  Which parts of Precrime are not viable?  Which parts are possible with future technologies?  
  • What core values and principles found in our US criminal justice system are missing in pre-crime?
  • a crime is a criminal act committed by a person
  • innocent until proven guilty
  • guilty beyond a reasonable doubt
  • due process of law
  • rights of accused in Bill of Rights

No person. . .shall be compelled to any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without the due process of law
-Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury. . .
-Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

  • What does Minority Report tell us about our US criminal justice system?

STUDENT HANDOUT
Role assigned: ______________ (witness, police investigator, prosecutor, defendant, judge, juror)
Compare/contrast your role in both the present day and futuristic criminal justice systems.  Complete the following chart.

 

US Criminal Justice System

2054 DC Precrime Unit

Describe your role in each system. 
What is your goal? 
What actions do you take?  What kinds of decisions do you make? 

 

 

Is your role limited in anyway?   Explain any limitations

 

 

 

 

How important is your role in determining guilt?

 

 

 

 

What changes or improvements would your role like to see?

 

 

 

 

From your role’s perspective, answer the following questions.  Could the 2054 DC Precrime system be right?    Could it produce fair results?    Could it be just?