Tappan Zee High School students enrolled in Christine Drivas and Chris Novak’s Law and Literature classes are currently engaging in a mock trial—complete with two teams of lawyers, witnesses and a judge.
In Novak’s class, students began preparing for their mock trial by learning about their case, “Jamie June v. Dry Gulch Public School District,” a fictional civil case developed by the New York State Bar Association. “The focus of the class is all about becoming more familiar with the court system. Engaging in these mock trials is definitely one of the highlights of the course. The students really get into it,” said Novak. “To prepare for this mock trial, students had to learn all things pertaining to the case including background information about the witnesses and evidence from both sides. Each lawyer has two roles as they have to prepare direct questions for their witness and cross examination questions for the opposite team. The students acting as witnesses also had to really learn about the person they’re portraying because it’s not a memorization game when they’re on the stand; it’s more of a conversation between them and the lawyer.”
In preparation of the mock trial, students learned about the different types of trials including civil cases and criminal cases. Novak also gave examples of common reasons for a lawyer to object during questioning including a leading question, asked and answered and speculation. “These mock trials really push students to be really prepared and detail-oriented but to also have the ability to think on their feet. Each team of lawyers has to know how to adapt and make a decision on the spot based on the opposing team and their line of questioning,” explained Novak.
Earlier this year, students participated in a mock jury selection to help them understand the process and following this mock trial, students will get to try a criminal case. In addition to the mock trials, the class also focuses on current events. Novak noted, “This class really emphasizes civic engagement and civic readiness. We try to bring in current events whenever possible including researching Supreme Court cases that are on the docket so when the case is actually heard, the students will have a foundation about the case and the verdict.”