Don’t Mock the Trial: Students conduct mock trials in government class


AP government teacher Justin Mason explains how the mock trial will play out

The mock trial hosted by government and psychology teacher Justin Mason in his American Government class always ends in a hung jury.

Mason deliberately uses a real case that is known for the difficulty in which both prosecutors and defense have trouble presenting any hard hitting facts. He does this so that students have to sway the jury with their talents of persuasion and not just cold hard facts.

The controversial case was Her Majesty The Queen v. Tom Dudley and Edwin Stephens, a trial about three sailors who drifted out at sea for weeks, when finally the stronger two teamed up and ate the weakest one to survive.
Although, this case is from a different country, the necessity of jurors is felt around the world. Our nation’s courts are what keep law and order, and it is every citizen’s duty to proffer their assistance. “All of these students will at some point be jurors, so this helps them understand the system,” Mason said. “The courts don’t work without people.”

Jury duty is seen by many Americans as burdensome and stressful, but former United States Marine Mason sees it as another way to serve his country. “People want to get out of jury duty, but it should be seen as patriotic.” Mason has done this mock trial in his American Government class for the last 13 out of 16 years. He teaches courtroom practices and policies right before the trial so that those who volunteered to be part of the legal counsel still have the unit fresh in their minds. Even with that much preparation however, 10 minutes to prepare yourself is not enough and all of the students were overwhelmed.

All, that is, except for senior Ryan Lin. “I’ve participated in mock trials before,” Lin said. “I don’t really like mock trial, but I love to argue.” Lin is planning on pretending to be sick in order to get out of his civilian duty. He isn’t exactly proud of it, but Lin figures that others can do as good of a job as he, so why not get his own work done.

Mock trials can also bring out heated arguments and feuds betwixt students. “Mock trial has made me realize that if Grant and Ethan Webster were actually on trial, I would vote guilty in a heartbeat,” Lin said.

Even during jury deliberation, there were some heated exchanges. This trial ended with a hung jury due to the inability to discuss the outcome for a week, but most of the jury voted guilty. Mason helped their discussion move along by asking some very basic questions, but for the most part, the students that were members of the jury advanced the discussion and tried to persuade their fellow jurors of their own accord. There seems to be an air of disinterest around this time in Mason’s class, but the students still participate to the fullest, understanding the importance of this facsimile trial. – See more at: