University of Wisconsin–Madison

Mock Trial Assignment

Cassie Chambliss (African Languages and Literature 201)

This assignment will give you opportunities to

  • articulate persuasive arguments about literature
  • give textual evidence in support of your arguments
  • predict and account for counter‑arguments
  • create interpretive presentations of literary characters
  • consider perspectives other than your own
  • characterize the audience of your arguments
  • prioritize arguments and evidence
  • articulate the qualities of a good argument
  • evaluate arguments and interpretations presented by other students
  • suggest ways to strengthen arguments presented during the trial

 

Instructions

  • Each group will have to communicate outside of class and discussion to prepare for the trial.
  • Be creative in your presentation of arguments.
  • The text—Sindiwe Magona’s Living, Loving, and Lying Awake at Night—will be the ultimate authority.
  • Watch a movie or TV show that portrays a trial scene and decide what strategies could be useful to you.
  • I will be happy to meet with some or all of your group if you’d like feedback on preparing your case.
  • Make sure you get the names and contact numbers of all the members of your group.

 

Schedule of Trial Events

February 23/24 ‑ One week before the trial

On this day each side will present the following to each of the other groups:

  • e‑mail a copy to the class list on or before the date above
  • turn in a hard copy to me during discussion that week

Prosecution and Defense:

  • list of main arguments
  • list of witnesses
  • roles that each member of the group will play

NOTE: Every person in the group must have a role, but you may possibly have more than one role depending on the number of lawyers and witnesses your group decides to use.

The Jury:

  • list of criteria that will be used in judging each argument
  • list of key questions/issues the jury thinks should be addressed during the trial in order to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant

 

March 2/3 ‑ The Day of the Trial

The Clerks for each group will enforce these time limits.

  • 15 minutes: Prosecution: presentation of arguments and witnesses
  • 15 minutes: Defense: presentation of arguments and witnesses
  • 5 minutes: Prosecution: cross‑examination of defense witnesses or return to prosecution witnesses for rebuttal
  • 5 minutes: Defense: cross‑examination of prosecution witnesses or return to defense witnesses for rebuttal
  • 10 minutes: jury: open discussion among jurors with the option of questioning anyone from the defense or the prosecution

 

March 16/17 ‑ Closing Arguments and Jury Vote

  • 5 minutes: Prosecution: summary of arguments and closing statements
  • 5 minutes: Defense: summary of arguments and closing statements
  • 5 minutes: jury: restatement or re‑opening of questions, discussion among jurors
  • 10 minutes: jury: vote with explanation and comments on effectiveness of arguments

 

Trial Roles

The Charge

To be suggested by students in each section and finalized by me.

 

Prosecution

This group is responsible for articulating the charges against the defendant. You must define the arguments that form the basis of the (legal/moral/criminal?) charge and introduce witnesses to provide evidence in support of these arguments. You will also need to predict the counter‑arguments of the defense in order to prepare witnesses to testify against the defendant, and to prepare questions for the witnesses of the defense. In order to fulfill these responsibilities, you will choose people from your group for the following roles:

Lawyers—Two or more; the lawyers will address the jury, presenting the arguments and questioning witnesses in order to convince the jury of the defendant’s guilt.

Witnesses—These may be characters from the stories in Living, Loving, and Lying Awake at Night or characters from other related stories/films used in this course. Prosecution witnesses will be questioned by the lawyers for the prosecution and for the defense, so you will have to develop an interpretive presentation of the character that is consistent with the arguments of the prosecution AND based on the text.

Clerk—One person (who may act as a lawyer or witness as well) should be responsible for 1) making sure everyone participates both during out‑of-class meetings and during the trial, and 2) keeping the entire prosecution team within the time limits for their presentation. The Clerk can help the group prioritize arguments and make the best use of the limited time.

 

Defense

This group is responsible for articulating arguments for the innocence of the defendant. You must define arguments in opposition to the initial charge against the defendant, and introduce witnesses who can give evidence in support of these arguments. You will also need to predict arguments the prosecution might use against the defendant and other witnesses in order to prepare them to testify, and in order to prepare questions for the witnesses of the prosecution. In order to fulfill these responsibilities, you will choose people from your group for the following roles:

Lawyers—Two or more; the lawyers will address the jury, presenting the arguments and questioning witnesses in order to convince the jury of the defendant’s innocence.

Witnesses—These may be characters from the stories in Living, Loving, and Lying Awake at Night, or characters from other related stories/films used in this course. Prosecution witnesses will be questioned by the lawyers for the prosecution and for the defense, so you will have to develop an interpretive presentation of the character that is consistent with the arguments of the defense AND based on the text.

Clerk—One person (who may act as a lawyer or witness as well) should be responsible for 1) making sure everyone participates both during out‑of‑class meetings and during the trial, and 2) keeping the entire defense team within the time limits for their presentation. The Clerk can help the group prioritize arguments and make the best use of the limited time.

 

Jury

This group will be the audience for all arguments presented in the trial. You will be responsible for evaluating the arguments presented by the prosecution and the defense in order to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. To accomplish the task, jury members must

  • Develop a set of criteria for judging the effectiveness and merit of the arguments and evidence presented by the prosecution and defense teams.
  • Prepare questions for witnesses and lawyers from both sides in anticipation of the arguments they will make. The jury will have time to pose any questions not already addressed after both sides have presented their arguments.
  • Vote on the outcome of the trial according to the established criteria, NOT based on knowledge of the characters from reading and personal opinion.
  • Suggest to the prosecution and defense teams evidence or methods that would have made their arguments more effective.
  • Assign a Clerk—one person to be responsible for 1) making sure everyone participates both during out‑of‑class meetings and during the trial, and 2) keeping the entire jury within the time limits for their presentation.