About This Lesson Plan

SUBJECT
Civics and Government

GRADE
6-8

DURATION
75 Mins

UNIT PLAN
Justice by the People

COLLECTION
Jury System Lesson Plans

Lesson 9: Prepare for Trial

 

OBJECTIVE

In this lesson, students will learn about the relationship between constitutional rights and fair and unbiased jury selection. Jury duty is an important civic responsibility, and justice in America requires the work of each branch of government as well as the citizens who serve on juries.

Students will focus on the process for selecting members of a jury. In addition, they will learn vocabulary relevant to understanding court proceedings, which they will apply in making juror selections. Throughout the main activities and lesson extensions, students will investigate the relationship between constitutional rights and fair and unbiased jury selection. 

Skills Supporting Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and History/Social Studies:

  • Determine the central idea
  • Provide a summary
  • Determine the meanings of words
  • Write arguments with support
  • Organize reasons and evidence in written argument
  • Use appropriate and precise language
  • Write conclusions to support arguments
  • Participate in group discussions
  • Follow rules for discussions, set goals and deadlines, and define role
  • Pose and respond to questions
  • Review ideas from more than one perspective
  • Distinguish claims through reason and evidence
Essential Question:
Write the question below on the board. Explain that the lesson activities are geared to help students explore and then respond to this question later during the Lesson Wrap-Up.

What is the relationship between a fair and unbiased jury-selection process and upholding U.S. constitutional rights?

Lesson Duration:
40–45 minutes for the main activities; 20 minutes for Lesson Extension 1; 10 minutes for Lesson Extension 2

MATERIALS

DIRECTIONS

Activity (Part 1) Directions:
• Tell the class that voir dire (pronounced: vwahr deer) is the process of asking potential jurors questions. Write the term on the board, pronounce it, and have students pronounce it correctly.

• Explain that voir dire is a French term that is translated in this context as “to speak the truth.” Explain that voir dire is the process by which the attorneys and judge question prospective jurors. Have students speculate about the voir dire process with the following question:

What kind of information do you think attorneys or a judge want to learn during this part of the selection process?

Then share with the class that questioning during voir dire is designed to determine if:
  1. Any juror is biased or cannot in some way deal with the issues of the case fairly.
  2. There is some cause that would prohibit a juror to serve, such as prior knowledge of the facts of the case, or an acquaintanceship with any of the parties connected to the case, including the lawyers or the judge.
  3. Any juror has an occupation that might lead to bias.
  4. In a death penalty case, the juror is prejudiced against the death penalty.
  5. The juror had a previous similar experience, such as having been sued in a similar case.
• Make available a print or online version of the Sixth Amendment (see Materials for document link). Using the text of the amendment as a reference, have students point out why any one of the reasons that might eliminate a juror could impair a person’s right to a fair trial.

Lesson Extension Alert: To further explore the voir dire process and its relationship to the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the Sixth and Seventh Amendments, see Lesson Extension 1.

Activity (Part 2) Directions:
• Distribute copies of the Juror Selection Reproducible. Explain that by asking prospective jurors questions, lawyers can choose the people they feel will be the fairest. Before you break the class into groups, remind students that the court requires a jury of peers (or equals) to make a group decision that is impartial (meaning “with no prejudice” or “free of bias”) and unbiased (in court, this means “absence of bias”).

• Organize groups of four students, each comprised of two pairs of student partners from the previous activity. Have the groups work together to complete a review and determination for each of the three potential jurors described in the Juror Selection Reproducible. Then have the class review the jurors one at a time. For Juror 1, ask a spokesperson from one group to share the group’s consensus and determination about Josie Batch. If another group has other responses and/or a different determination for Josie Batch, encourage a spokesperson from one other group to politely challenge and debate about this potential juror. Repeat this process to review the class response and determinations for Juror 2, Christopher Grace, and Juror 3, Janet Cason. Remind students to use the text of the Sixth Amendment to support their arguments and claims about juror selection.

• After all three jurors on the Juror Selection Reproducible have been reviewed and debated, invite volunteers to share a specific question they might ask of a potential juror, and the reason why they would ask that particular question.  

• Next, distribute the Courtroom Vocabulary Reproducible. Allow time for students in their groups of four to review the terms. Have groups assign each of the five terms (relevance, hearsay, opinion, speculation, conclusions) to a different group member. Have each term, along with the meaning and example provided on the handout, read aloud by the assigned group member. Have that student conduct a group discussion in which the members work together to come up with another example for the term. Visit among the groups to check their understanding of the terms and accompanying examples, as well as answer any questions that students might have. Finally, tell students that they will need this vocabulary sheet to complete the I Object! Reproducible that will be assigned for homework.

Lesson Extension Alert: To further inform students about some other terms commonly used in courtrooms, see Lesson Extension 2.

Wrap-up With the Essential Question
Return to the Essential Question that was written on the board at the beginning of the lesson.

What is the relationship between a fair and unbiased jury-selection process and upholding U.S. constitutional rights?

Open a discussion in which students respond to this question, based on their class experience. Encourage students to support their responses with text and details from the Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights.

Assignment:
Distribute the I Object! Reproducible to the class. Have students complete the activity for homework. When the assignment is due, have students volunteer to share their rewrites and explain how the answer demonstrates impartiality in each witness statement. After volunteers have shared their rewrites, open the discussion and ask the class the following question:

How does serving on a jury ensure that the rights of the Constitution are upheld?

Lesson Extensions:
(1) Point out that in some courts, the judge asks most of the questions, while in other courts, the lawyers ask the questions. The judge may dismiss or “excuse” some jurors for cause (for instance: unbiased or some other issue of impartiality—meaning “with no prejudice” or “free of bias,” as explained in Lesson 6). Attorneys may excuse some jurors in what is called a “peremptory” challenge, without stating any reason for the dismissal. Ask students the following question:

What do you think might trigger this kind of peremptory challenge during a voir dire? (Some answers could include “a sense that the potential juror won’t be sympathetic” or “a sense that the potential juror won’t pay sufficient attention to the case’s details.”)

Next, have the students refer to the text of the Sixth, Seventh, and Fourteenth Amendments either in print or online (see Materials for document links). Remind them that originally the Constitution’s amendments applied only to the federal government, but that their provisions are applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. With this amendment and the voir dire process in mind, open a discussion with the following questions:

What does the interviewer discover through the voir dire process?

What can be learned through the voir dire that will help the lawyers in handling the case?

How does the jury-selection process ensure the rights protected by the Constitution under the Sixth and Seventh Amendments and the Fourteenth Amendment?
 
(2) To open up the court experience even further for students, you might want to present the following terms about court officials and trials that are helpful for jurors to know    

bailiff: an officer who assists the court and the jury and maintains order in the courtroom

civil case: a claim for money to compensate for the wrongdoing of one person or organization to another

class action: a lawsuit brought by one or more people on behalf of a larger group of people

criminal case: a case in which an individual is accused of committing a crime

defendant: the person against whom a case is brought

defense attorney: a lawyer for the defendant

grand jury: a jury of individuals who consider evidence in a criminal case to determine if the case is valid and a suspect can be indicted

plaintiff: a person or organization that starts a civil lawsuit by claiming damage

prosecution: the federal, state, or local government that is accusing an individual of committing a crime

prosecuting attorney:
a lawyer for the prosecution
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