Inside the Courtroom

Author: Sylvia Kniest
Edited By: Rachel Hughes & Stephanie Nardei

Time: Lesson 1: 2 periods
Lesson 2: 1 period
Copy handouts from the websites listed below
Materials: Articles: “steps in a jury trial”, “Case Study..”, “Criminal Case Road Map”, crime articles and create handout for class action activity.


Students will look at an example of a class action lawsuit to understand how it compares to a civil suit filed by an individual. They will also compare civil and criminal cases by analyzing examples of both.

Students will be able to:
1. Explain the difference between a class action and civil law suit, identifying their component parts in a T-chart.
2. Compare criminal trials and civil trials.
3. Explain steps in the criminal process as they review cases.

National Social Studies Standards
III-D. What is the place of law in the American constitutional system?
V-B. What are the rights of citizens?
V-C. What are the responsibilities of citizens?

Teacher Background
Explain the concept of a class action lawsuit taken from the website below:
http://law.freeadvice.com/financial_law/broker_disputes/class_action.htm “Legal Advice”

A "class action" is a civil suit brought by one or more people on behalf of themselves and others in similar situations. In other words, the others are in a similar circumstance where the common issues are most critical to the lawsuit. For example, if a large consumer group were injured as a result of an allegedly defective product, the principal issue will be whether the product caused the injury. Some examples of class actions are those brought against the manufacturers of allegedly defective or hazardous products, such as asbestos, certain vaccines, Agent Orange, tobacco, and breast implants.

Resource Websites

Steps in trial: http://www.hamilton-co.org/MunicipalCourt/Jury/steps_in_a_trial.htm
Criminal case road map: http://www.audrain-county.org/government/pa/criminal.htm
Criminal cases: http://news.findlaw.com/legalnews/crime/index2.html
U.S. Attorney’s Kid’s Page: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/eousa/kidspage/



Class Action
Ask Students:
1. How does a class action lawsuit differ from a regular civil suit?

2. Can you think of examples of class action lawsuits?

3. What are the advantages of filing a class action lawsuit?

  • It allows a large group who suffered similar damages to file a suit together.
  • This keeps the court from being tied up with thousands of similar court hearings.
  • It also deters companies from doing anything that may harm the public.

Part 2:
4. Copy “Steps in a Jury Trial” from (http://www.hamilton-co.org/MunicipalCourt/Jury/steps_in_a_trial.htm) and hand out to students. Tell them they will be referring to these charts for the unit’s remainder.

5. Copy the article, “Case Study: Radiation Poisoning Affecting Two Communities” from the following website:

6. Have students work in pairs. Assign one student the plaintiff attorney the other the defense attorney. Students use handouts to complete the following:

You are an attorney preparing to argue the case regarding the class action lawsuit against the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation. Complete the following in order to ensure you are prepared for the trial.

You are an attorney for the ______________ (plaintiff/defense).

Name of the party you are representing:____________________

1. The first step in the trial is to select the jury. Give an example of a “challenge for cause” you may use regarding this specific case:

2. Will you or the opposing attorney give opening statements first? Explain.

3. Using the information from the article, write an example of an opening statement you think will persuade the jury (actual opening arguments are quite long, however you have limited information available to you).

4. Who will present evidence first?

a) Give an example of a witness who may be called for direct examination.
b) What other evidence might be used?

5. What is the significance of cross-examination?

6. What takes place after the presentation of evidence?

7. Divide the class into 4 groups:

  • 2 groups composed of plaintiff attorneys
  • 2 groups composed of defense attorneys.

Ask them for their opening statements and compose one to present to the judge.

8. The two groups representing the plaintiff will make their opening statements first followed by the defense with their opening statements.

9. Discuss with class the importance of opening statements. What should the statements include? (Remind the students the jury do not know the case details so it is the lawyer’s job to give background on the case during opening statements). Using the criteria the students mentioned; discuss which opening statement was the most effective.

Besides the opening statements, what other aspect of the trial process are important? Why?

10. Tell the class that in a civil case 7 out of 8 jurors must agree on their final decision. Unlike in a criminal case where the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” the jury in the civil case decides on the case based on “preponderance of evidence”.

  • Did the plaintiff’s evidence prove by more than 50%, that the defendant is liable for damages?

Based on this criteria, the jury decides which party is responsible and the amount of damages (if any) they will award. If the 7 jurors cannot agree on a decision the judge may declare a “hung-jury”. In this case the defendant may be tried by another jury at a later time.

The next lesson will address criminal trial procedures so students can compare differences between the two procedures.

Criminal Trial Procedures
1. Copy the “Criminal Case Road Map” (pages 1-3) from http://www.audrain-county.org/government/pa/criminal.htm . Also click on “Go here for more details about jury and jury trials” (under the trial heading). Copy both sections for each student.

2. Go to: http://news.findlaw.com/legalnews/crime/index2.html and select four to five different crime articles. Suggestions:

  • Lawyer: Woman Put Chemical in Deadly Drink (AP)
  • Witness: No Bruises on Scott Peterson (AP)
  • Indictments Could Come Down in Ferry Crash (AP)
  • Lawyer: Woman Put Chemical in Deadly Drink (AP)
  • Idaho man found not guilty of fatally shooting his terminally ill uncle (Court TV)

3. Divide the class into four-five groups (depending on the class size) and give each one a different article to read. Students in each group will discuss and record their answers to the following questions:

  • What is the article about?
  • Refer to your “Criminal Case Road Map”. Which point(s) on the road map are illustrated in the article?
  • Identify the defendant and the crime they are charged with.
  • List the relevant evidence for both the prosecution and the defense.

4. Have each group share their cases with the rest of the class by discussing answers to the above questions.

5. Discuss with the class the criminal case roadmap.

  • Were there any steps not illustrated in the cases reviewed by groups? What were they?
  • What recourse does a defendant have if he is found guilty in a criminal trial? (tell the students they will look at the appeals process in the next lesson).

Discuss with the class: What are the differences between the civil process and criminal process? Create a “T” chart on the board and ask students to list the steps in order from the indictment (criminal) or when a complaint is filed by the plaintiff (civil). Tell students that they should now be able to give specific differences.


Embedded Assessment
Students will be assessed on performance in the case study and group participation in activities.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

1996-2007, The University of Arizona
Last update: November 10, 2009
  Page Content: Rachel Hughes
Web Master: Travis Biazo