8th Grade Mock Trial

On February 9, 2012, the Villa Academy 8th Grade U.S. History students traveled to the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle to try former president Andrew Jackson for his alleged crimes against humanity, which occurred in the 1830’s as Americans moved west. The specific charges stated that “President Andrew Jackson, with premeditated intent, did conduct or authorize a widespread or systemic attack against a civilian population (herein, the Cherokee Nation), where the following methods were employed: murder, extermination, deportation or forcible transfer of population, and other similar inhuman acts that caused great suffering and serious injury.”

Students spent almost six weeks preparing for this trial. Prep included learning the historical context of Native American removal, specifically, the idea of Manifest Destiny and westward expansion. Then, students digested almost thirty pages of primary source material, which ranged from speeches to letters, and from first-hand accounts to Supreme Court decisions. Students selected witnesses, and were given roles; they had to write an essay about how their role fit into the context of the trial, and what evidence from the source material packet would assist them. Once the students were familiar with the historical context, the source material, and their roles, they had to get ready for the trial. This involved drafting opening and closing statements and examination questions, learning about courtroom protocol, questioning techniques, and objection rules, and practicing their testimonies.

Judge John C. Coughenour presided over the opening and closing statements. Unfortunately, he was still presiding over another trial and could not stay for the whole morning. Chris P. Reilly, colleague of Mr. Guadagno, presided over the rest of the trial.

The trial lasted for almost two hours, though a few jurors were in tears within minutes of the Prosecution’s opening statement. Students battled back and forth between direct and cross examinations, showcasing both their exhaustive preparation and their abilities to think on their feet. 8B, the prosecution, focused on Jackson’s threat of “utter annihilation” during their opening and closing statements, while 8A rested their defense on the choices given to the Cherokees, and the consequences of those choices. Ultimately, the jury returned a GUILTY verdict after debating the charges and testimony for almost an hour.

The students impressed everyone: the judge(s), court clerks, visiting parents, jurors, Mr. Guadagno, and Ms. Brooks. In fact, the court staff said that the kids were incredibly professional, poised, and confident.

One parent-spectator said, “What a huge success today!  It was so much fun to see the mock trial.  All the kids were amazing. The enthusiasm and hard work by all was more than apparent. An event to be remembered forever!”

Judge Coughenour invited the students to ask questions about his career, including his appointment by President Reagan and his most well-known cases. The students were able to tour Judge Coughenour’s office, library, and jury room as well.

We are so grateful to Michael Guadagno for all of the ways he supported the 8th Graders during this experience. He put forth an incredible amount of effort and time, and his guidance was invaluable.

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