For Schools

Grades 7-9: Due Process Freedoms
Battle for Truth/It's Your Witness
It's Your Witness

The purpose of this activity is to help students understand the role of the lawyer in a trial and the way that he or she uses questions to prove a case. One of the most difficult elements of a trial for students to understand is the questioning of witnesses.

  1. Select one witness, two prosecutors, and two defense lawyers.
  2. Give each a copy of this activity.
  3. Allow the attorneys 10 or 15 minutes to write their questions. (The number of questions may be increased.)
  4. Write the four elements of the crime on the board. Tell the rest of the class they are the jury. Tell them that the evidence elicited by the prosecutor must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Mr. A killed Mr. B and that they will have to deliberate and vote after the evidence is given.
  5. Proceed with the questioning.
  6. Have the jury deliberate and reach a majority decision.
  7. Discuss the purpose and use of questions by the lawyers in a trial.
  8. Discuss the term "adversary" and tell students that our legal system is called an "adversary system."
  9. Evaluate the adversary system as a means of insuring justice.

Statement Of Case
Mr. B, a construction worker, was killed in a diner during his lunch hour. Mr. A is accused of the killing. Mrs. C was a witness. Mr. A was arrested, indicted by the grand jury, and charged. The indictment is as follows:

On March 17th, Mr. A did unlawfully, willingly, and with "malice aforethought" kill Mr. B by stabbing him with a knife. The District Attorney, in order to convict Mr. A of murder with malice, must prove the state's case beyond a reasonable doubt, including

  1. that there was a killing;
  2. that Mr. A did the killing
  3. that Mr. A killed Mr. B with a knife; and
  4. that Mr. A did the killing with "malice aforethought" (This means that he did so without any legal reason and with an evil intent.)

The Medical Examiner has already testified that she performed an autopsy on Mr. B, who died of a stab wound which could have been caused by a knife. Witness C can testify to the following facts:

  1. She heard loud voices that caused her to look up at Mr. A and Mr. B.
  2. She heard Mr. B say, "I know you have that knife, Joe," in a loud voice.
  3. She saw Mr. A back away and hold up his hands saying, "No, I don't have any knife."
  4. Next thing she saw was Mr. B staggering and falling back toward him. She saw blood running out of his stomach from a big gash.
  5. After Mr. B fell at his feet, Mrs. C looked up and saw a flash of light in Mr. A's hand.
  6. She started toward Mr. A, then turned and ran off. She didn't know what Mr. A did after that.
  7. She did not see a knife around anywhere.

Instructions To Participants

You may ask Mrs. C ten questions to try to prove the four elements of the crime. You may not "lead" the witness. This means you may not ask questions which suggest an answer; for example, "You did see a knife, didn't you?"

Defense Attorneys:
Your job is to see that your client gets a fair trial. The state must prove its case "beyond a reasonable doubt." You should try to create a reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors. You have ten questions to raise this doubt.

Excerpted from "Law in the Lone Star State," available from the State Bar of Texas.

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