Mock Trial 2017– Jackson is NOT Guilty!

On March 30, 2017, 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.”

The 8th grade students spent almost eight 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, from first-hand accounts to Supreme Court decisions, and maps to formal portraits. After several discussions about trial strategy and then further research to support our strategies, students selected six witnesses for each the prosecution and the defense. Once students were given roles, they had to write a statement about how their role fit into the context of the trial, and what evidence from the source material packet –and another cache of additional materials– would assist them. Final preparations involved digging further into research for particular roles and strategies, drafting opening and closing statements and examination questions, learning about courtroom protocol, questioning techniques, voir dire, and practicing their testimonies.

Margaret(Prosecution) Opening Statements David N.(Defense)
Prosecution Witnesses
DX: Amelia Mr. Samuel CloudJulian CX: Claire K.
DX: Kaden Priv. John G. BurnettGarett CX: Greta
DX: Ryan P. Davy CrockettAnnaliese CX: Raven
DX: Kate M. MicanopyKelly CX: Sofie R.
DX: Linsey Justice John MarshallEthan CX: Eleanor
DX: Lily F. Chief John RossJenna CX: Aidan (Voir Dire)
Defense Witnesses
DX: Billy (Voir Dire) Gov. Wilson LumpkinTaylor C. CX: Ryan Y.
DX: Kate H. Mr. John MarstonLily S. CX: Alicia
DX: Nyssa Major RidgeGreyson CX: Ethan B.
DX: Hannah Mr. Elias Boudinot IIReilly CX: Sofia N.
DX: Me-lin Brig. Gen. Winfield ScottRyan J. CX: Owen
DX: Cameron Pres. Andrew JacksonMaya CX: Ella
Claire F.(Prosecution)Simon– Rebuttal Closing Arguments Marika(Defense)

The trial opened with jury selection. Facing a pool of 13 possible jurors, student attorneys began the voir dire process, asking questions of the jury pool to begin to shape their own side’s narrative. Both prosecution and defense identified favorable jurors and were able to strike jury pool members who hinted that they may not “buy into” the narrative of the case. This year, potential jurors were questioned about a number of topics including the president’s role and the story of Beauty and the Beast. Potential jurors were asked to focus only on the role and actions of the president in general, and to avoid discussing current, or recent, presidents. Further, jurors were asked to avoid topics such as healthcare, taxes, emails, Russia, golf, or Twitter, as none of those were relevant during the Trail of Tears and westward movement. Ultimately, four potential jurors were dismissed by the teams of defense and prosecution attorneys.

As opening statements began, members of both the jury and the gallery were quickly absorbed with stories of greed and corruption, hardship and confusion, and the threads that weave our diverse American history. Students battled back and forth between direct and cross examinations, showcasing both their exhaustive preparation and their abilities to think on their feet. The prosecution focused on the destruction of the Cherokee Nation and other native groups at the hands of greedy politicians. They compared the confinement and removal of the Cherokee to the Holocaust and Japanese internment camps. They showed the jury two competing maps: “The White Man’s Map, 1812,” and “The Indian Map, 1812,” which demonstrated that maps depend on perspective. One on map, the jury saw clearly delineated states. On the other, they saw the same land divided by five distinct native groups known as the “Civilized Tribes.”

The defense focused on the difficult decisions that Presidents and Heads of State are often required to make. They suggested that Jackson was forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. By deciding to move the Cherokee, they argued, Jackson made a difficult decision that he believed would cost the fewest lives while also providing the best option for long term security for both the country and Native American sovereignty. They conceded that while Jackson did, in fact, aim to help the Cherokee, his actions did not have the intended impact.

Ultimately, the jury returned a NOT GUILTY verdict after debating the charges and testimony. While the jury agreed that this was an inexcusable event in American history, they believed that Andrew Jackson could not shoulder the blame legally.

The students impressed everyone: the judge, court clerks, visiting parents, jurors, Mr. Guadagno, and both Ms. Brooks and Ms. May. One member of the court staff said that she’d been a middle school teacher for several years and was incredibly impressed with how poised and professional our students were.

Students reflected on their Mock Trial experience. One said, “I realize now, after the trial, that so many different powers and decisions led to the Trail of Tears, and it would be extremely difficult to blame any one person. Another extremely interesting thing about the trial was that it brought history closer to us. It made us see all of the points of view, all of the decisions, and all of the people involved. It made us think of the historical event as if it was recently, which throws an entirely new and exciting light on things… The trial made us envision and understand what it was like to live during this period of politics and change. This is extremely important if we want to be able to empathize in any way with the past.”

Another student reflected, “I think that mock trial is an amazing part of the 8th Grade History curriculum because it is a very good experience for us. Not only do we learn about history, we also have fun in the process… Mock trial allows us to think outside the box and do an interesting project. I also think it is really cool to go to a real courthouse, in front of a real judge and learn all at the same time. This project can be a valuable and fun lesson to all, even for students who do not plan to become lawyers. I think it’s important for students to see how their government works and to be a part of the process even in a scripted way. In today’s casual world it is valuable for youth to participate in a formal courtroom setting.”

Judge Coughenour was equally impressed with our students. He awarded four students with “Best Witness” and “Best Attorney” gavels: Greyson, Julian, David, and Raven. Judge Coughenour then 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.

Thank you so much to parent drivers and jury members, and especially to Mr. Guadagno for all of his time and effort!

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