HU students learn to take the law into their own hands

Judge Loria Williams, right, a freshman, listens to statements from witness and freshman Joseph Brenneman during the Jterm mock trial.The judge pounded the gavel against her desk. The jury was ready to deliver their verdict. As each juror took a seat, the room fell silent. The foreman tore open the envelope.

"Not guilty on all counts," declared the foreman.

The defendant and his attorneys celebrated. The professor proudly nodded toward his students for a job well done for their first mock trial.

Dr. Jeffrey Webb, professor of history at Huntington University, taught the mock trial class for the 2012 January term session.

The class featured two mock trials a civil suit and a criminal prosecution. Students learned about the legal system firsthand by preparing for a trial as the defense, prosecution, expert witnesses or character witnesses. Students also sat on the jury and engaged in deliberations to issue verdicts.

"I wanted students to understand the adversarial nature of the system," Webb said. "Cases are resolved by the citizens themselves. I spent a lot of time in class on that concept."

HU students have the option to return in between the fall and spring semesters of each academic year to participate in non-traditional courses designed to offer students a chance to study a topic of interest to them for two and a half weeks.

Webb decided to teach this class to provide more opportunities for HU students interested in pursuing law as a career.

"I'm trying to give the pre-law program more visibility and more profile," he said.

Melissa Lawrence, a junior pre-law and accounting double major, has dreamed of becoming a lawyer ever since the eighth grade. She stays informed about the justice system and hopes to attend law school to pursue business law after she graduates.

Lawrence had the chance to act as the defense attorney for the criminal prosecution mock trial. She and her teammates celebrated victoriously after the jury came back and declared "not guilty" verdicts on three charges for their client.

"It really takes passion to pursue law, and I saw that come out in me while I was doing this," she said.

Other students took the class to educate themselves about the American justice system. Webb taught students the overall structure of the law, the act of forced confessions and how much evidence is needed for conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

Toward the end of J-term, Webb asked each student which roles they would like to pursue for the two upcoming mock trials. Webb assigned roles to the students, and they all studied their roles' responsibilities.

"The system, while it is effective, also has its flaws," said Joseph Brenneman, a freshman math education major. "It's up to the jury of peers to make the right decision. They are the determinants of what society thinks is right and wrong."

Along with class lectures, Webb invited guest speakers to attend class to help prepare students for their mock trials. He also took students on a field trip to the Huntington County Courthouse.

"It's a long drawn out process," said Andrew Chilcote, a senior accounting major. "I didn't realize how long it takes, but I guess you have to do whatever it takes for justice to be served."