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Role Playing in Teaching Constitutional Law
Unformatted Document Text:  problems for each of my 1 st Amendment and Civil rights courses which are attached to this paper. New problems taken from today’s headlines can be developed at any time. Mock trial Many universities, including my own, have mock trial teams composed of elite students who engage in various competitions. This is a useful activity, but most undergraduates have never seen a non-Hollywood or TV trial or participated in jury duty. Consequently, I have designed a mock trial to be conducted in a single class period. Students play the roles of prosecutors (two) and defense attorneys (two) expert witnesses (one for each side) and a six person jury. Such an exercise confronts two problems. The first is constructing a scenario that will engage the participants and not seem too artificial. The second is conducting the whole trial in a seventy five minute class period. The topic I have selected is pornography because the Supreme Court principle of community standards makes it subject to interesting jury debate. Originally, I had the “attorneys” jointly agree on an allegedly obscene piece of printed matter, but in recent years it has proved difficult to find student jurors who will seriously consider any written materials for conviction. Consequently, in recent years I have tweaked the subject of the trial to possession of allegedly obscene child pornography on a personal home computer. That creates a much more even debate in the juries. The second problem is running the trial in the short time frame available. To facilitate that goal, I serve as judge, create a strict time frame, and do not permit procedural motions or other distractions to the substantive issues at hand. Each side chooses an expert who adopts a relevant personae (clinical psychiatrist from a prominent university, Department of Justice child porn unit. etc.) The experts must write a ten page report summarizing research supporting 4

Authors: La Noue, George.
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problems for each of my 1
st
Amendment and Civil rights courses which are attached to this
paper. New problems taken from today’s headlines can be developed at any time.
Mock trial
Many universities, including my own, have mock trial teams composed of elite students
who engage in various competitions. This is a useful activity, but most undergraduates have
never seen a non-Hollywood or TV trial or participated in jury duty. Consequently, I have
designed a mock trial to be conducted in a single class period. Students play the roles of
prosecutors (two) and defense attorneys (two) expert witnesses (one for each side) and a six
person jury. Such an exercise confronts two problems. The first is constructing a scenario that
will engage the participants and not seem too artificial. The second is conducting the whole
trial in a seventy five minute class period.
The topic I have selected is pornography because the Supreme Court principle of
community standards makes it subject to interesting jury debate. Originally, I had the
“attorneys” jointly agree on an allegedly obscene piece of printed matter, but in recent years it
has proved difficult to find student jurors who will seriously consider any written materials for
conviction. Consequently, in recent years I have tweaked the subject of the trial to possession
of allegedly obscene child pornography on a personal home computer. That creates a much
more even debate in the juries.
The second problem is running the trial in the short time frame available. To facilitate
that goal, I serve as judge, create a strict time frame, and do not permit procedural motions or
other distractions to the substantive issues at hand. Each side chooses an expert who adopts a
relevant personae (clinical psychiatrist from a prominent university, Department of Justice
child porn unit. etc.) The experts must write a ten page report summarizing research supporting
4


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