Lesson 1

(Introduction to criminal justice participants)

There are five important participants in every criminal trial. They are:

1. A judge, who applies the law, hears and decides the facts and then determines the outcome of the case. Sometimes a jury decides the facts and applies the law after being instructed by a judge.

2. The victim (in some cases the victim may be society at large) against whom the crime was committed.

3. The defendant, the person accused of committing the crime.

4. A defense attorney who represents the defendant and works to protect the defendant’s rights.

5. The prosecutor, who represents the victims, presents the evidence of guilt and has the burden of proving the accused committed the offense.

A criminal trial is a search for the truth. Testimony and evidence are presented for the judge or jury to consider when determining whether the defendant is guilty. Because the prosecutor has the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt, the prosecutor presents first at trial.

There may be other witnesses in addition to the victim called to help establish the defendant’s guilt. Most criminal cases include the police officer(s) that conducted the investigation that led to the evidence being acquired and the defendant’s arrest.

Later, when we consider the Fifth Amendment we will discuss the defendant’s role at trial, but suffice it to say that the accused may, but does not have to testify.

The following mock trial script can help students understand the roles of the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, victim and defendant.

Mock trial exercise

Teacher serves as narrator: The trial you are about to witness involves an incident that occurred in the school cafeteria. A student was punched by another student. As a result, one student, the victim, sustained a cut lip and a chipped tooth and the other student, the defendant, was arrested and has been charged with simple assault.

Narrator: The prosecutor, played by (student’s name) will try to prove the defendant’s guilt and the defense attorney played by (student’s name) will try to show that the defendant is not guilty. The judge, the Honorable (student’s name) will preside over the trial and will give instructions to the jury. The jury (the rest of the class) will decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

Trial instructions

Judge: 1. Members of the jury, you are about to perform one of the most serious duties of citizenship. You are going to decide whether a fellow person is guilty of a crime. Pay close attention to everything that is done and said in this courtroom, so that you can perform your duties well.

2. The district attorney has charged the defendant with simple assault. Under our Constitution, the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The district attorney has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant has the right to remain silent and to present no evidence. You must not hold it against the defendant if he/she chooses not to testify at this trial.

3. I shall describe, in a general way, what will take place. First the district attorney may, if he/she wishes, make an opening statement in which he outlines the case against the defendant. The defendant’s attorney may make a statement outlining the defense case, either immediately following the district attorney’s opening statement or later in the trial.

Second, the district attorney will present evidence; he/she may call witnesses to testify. The defense has a right to cross-examine witnesses called by the district attorney in order to test the truthfulness and accuracy of their testimony. After the district attorney has presented the Commonwealth’s case, the defense counsel may present evidence for the defendant. The defendant has no obligation to offer evidence or to testify himself. The district attorney may, of course, cross-examine any witnesses presented by the defense. While you are deciding the facts of this case you will have to judge the credibility and weight of the testimony and other evidence. By credibility I mean the truthfulness and accuracy.

Third, after all the evidence has been presented, counsel for both sides will have an opportunity to make their closing arguments to you. I shall then give you my final charge which will include instructions on the rules of law that apply to the case and whatever additional guidance I think you need for your deliberations. You will then decide what your verdict will be.

Opening statements

Prosecutor: Good morning, your honor. The evidence will show that the defendant struck the victim for no good reason and that she meant to hurt her. The evidence will show that the defendant split the victim’s lip and chipped her tooth. At the end of this trial I will come back and ask you to find the defendant guilty of simple assault. Thank you.

Defense Attorney: Good morning your honor. The evidence will show that my client did not commit a crime. All that occurred here was an altercation between two students and when you find out how and why the altercation occurred you will agree that my client must be found not guilty. Thank you.

Prosecution’s case (Direct examination: 1st witness)

Prosecutor: The commonwealth calls the victim to the stand. Good morning. Can you tell us what happened on April 18, 2000 that brings you to court?

Victim: That witch (pointing at the defendant) punched me for no reason.

Prosecutor: How many times were you punched?

Victim: Once.

Prosecutor: Where did that occur?

Victim: In the cafeteria.

Prosecutor: What injuries, if any, did you sustain?

Victim: My lip was split and my tooth was chipped.

Prosecutor: Did you go to the doctor?

Victim: The doctor and the dentist.

Prosecutor: No further questions.


Defense attorney: Isn’t it true that you called my client’s mother a name?

Victim: I was just playing.

Defense attorney: Isn’t it true that you and all your friends constantly tease my client?

Victim: No, that isn’t true.

Defense attorney: No further questions.

Direct examination:

Second witness

Prosecutor: The commonwealth next calls school police officer Jones. What did you see on April 18, 2000 that brings you to court?

Police Officer Jones: I was in the cafeteria and I saw the defendant standing over the victim. The victim was on the floor, bleeding from her mouth.

Prosecutor: What did you do?

Police Officer Jones: I broke up the crowd and took the defendant to the office.

Prosecutor: No further questions.


Defense attorney: Isn’t it true that you never saw my client hit the victim?

Police Officer Jones: That’s true, but I did hear her say if you get up I’ll hit you again.

Defense attorney: No further questions.

Prosecutor: The Commonwealth next calls the victim’s mother. Would you please describe your daughter’s condition when she came home from school on April 18, 2008?

Victim’s mother: Her lip was split and her tooth was chipped.

Prosecutor: Did she need medical attention?

Victim’s mother: Yes. She went to the doctor for stitches and the dentist to cap her tooth.

Prosecutor: What did the medical and dental treatment cost?

Victim’s mother: $500.00

Prosecutor: The prosecution rests.

Defense case (Direct

examination: First witness)

Defense attorney: The defense calls the defendant to the stand. Ms. Defendant, can you tell us what happened on April 18, 2000 that brings you to court?

Defendant: Ms. Victim and her friends surrounded me in the cafeteria. Ms. Victim called my mother a name and they all started coming closer, so I pushed her away. She slipped and hit her face on the ground and that’s when the school police officer grabbed me.

Defense attorney: Did you mean to hurt Ms. Victim?

Defendant: No! I only pushed her to defend myself.

Defense attorney: No further questions.


Prosecutor: The victim was all in your face, wasn’t she?

Defendant: Yes.

Prosecutor: She was looking you in the eyes, wasn’t she?

Defendant: Yes.

Prosecutor: Then she called your mother a name, didn’t she?

Defendant: That’s right.

Prosecutor: Then you pushed her in the chest didn’t you?

Defendant: Yes.

Prosecutor: Then she fell back (demonstrating) didn’t she?

Defendant: Yes.

Prosecutor: Well if she fell back (demonstrating) how did she split her lip and chip her tooth? No further questions.

Defense attorney: Defense rests.

Closing arguments

Defense attorney: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this was no assault. This was an accident brought on by the victim’s own actions. She and her friends teased my client and placed her in fear when they surrounded her. Only then did she push the victim. I ask you to find my client not guilty.

Prosecutor: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the evidence is clear. Granted, the victim called the defendant’s mother a name, but there was no justification for striking the victim. The injuries could not have resulted from being pushed, like the defendant claims, only from being punched. I ask you to find the defendant guilty as charged.

Judge’s instruction to the jury

Judge: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. The defendant has been charged with the crime of simple assault. In order to find the defendant guilty of simple assault, you must find that all of the following elements have been established beyond a reasonable doubt:

1. That the defendant caused bodily injury to _________________.

2. That the defendant’s conduct in this regard was intentional, knowing or reckless. A person acts intentionally with respect to bodily injury when it is his conscious object or purpose to cause such injury. A person acts knowingly with respect to bodily injury when he/she is aware that it is practically certain that his/her conduct will cause such a result. A person acts recklessly with respect to bodily injury when he/she consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that bodily injury will result from his/her conduct.

If, after considering all the evidence, you find that the Commonwealth has established each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, then you should find the defendant guilty of simple assault. Otherwise, you must find the defendant not guilty of simple assault.

Although the Commonwealth has the burden of proving that the defendant is guilty, this does not mean that the Commonwealth must prove its case beyond all doubt and to a mathematical certainty. A reasonable doubt is a doubt that would cause a reasonably careful and sensible person to hesitate before acting upon a matter of importance in his/her own affairs. A reasonable doubt must fairly arise out of the evidence that was presented or out of the lack of evidence presented with respect to some element of the crime.

Poll the class as if it were the jury. Guilty or not guilty?

Discuss why students voted as they did.

Discuss the concepts burden of proof and reasonable doubt.

Discuss the credibility analysis of the witnesses.

Discuss the significance of the evidence

Discuss the roles of the prosecutor and defense attorney.

For more information on mock trial exercises, visit philasd.org.

Contact staff writer Chanel Hill at (215) 893-5716 or at chill@phillytrib.com.

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