Jury Questioning: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Materials of the Chester Youth Court Volunteers at Swarthmore College
Objective: By the end of the lesson, jury members should be able to ask a respondent thoughtful questions that enable them to gain a fuller picture of the case and render a fair and constructive disposition.
I. Introductory Activity: Discussion (15 minutes)
a. Divide the class up into small groups with four college students serving as group leaders for each group. The number of groups may be adjusted to fit class size.
b. Discuss the students’ questioning methods, reasoning, and experiences with questioning as jury members in previous youth court cases. Ask:
- What kinds of cases or offenses have you seen in the past?
- What kind of information was important in coming up with the disposition?
- How do you find out what is the root cause of the problem with the respondent?
- How do you get the person to tell you what you need to know?
- How do you get them to give answers that go beyond yes or no questions? (Ie: Start questions with the key words “describe,” “explain,” “show,” etc)
- What examples of things that make you give lenient dispositions vs. harsher dispositions?
- While deliberating, do you see things from the perspectives of different people involved or just the respondent? Does it depend on the kind of case?
- Did you consider different options for what the respondent could have done in that situation?
III. Sample Case: Questioning in Practice (20 minutes)
a. The group leaders will act as the fake respondents in each group. Another college student from each group will present the students with this case:
Mrs. Heartner, a math teacher, said Student X, who typically falls asleep in her class, fell asleep again last Wednesday. She woke Studnet X up and he/she cursed her out. Mrs. Heartner sent the student to the principal's office.
b. Youth Court students ask the fake respondent questions, trying to get to the heart of the matter and come up with a disposition that they think is fair and constructive. Have one youth court student from each group volunteer to present their disposition to the larger group and explain why they chose that disposition.
IV. Conclusion (15 minutes)
a. One student from each group presents their group’s disposition in front of the class and explains why they felt that was the best disposition.
b. Ask the student in the large group:
- What are you trying to accomplish with the disposition and how does this help the student on a larger scale?
- What kinds of questions did you feel prompted the respondent to tell a story or give more than just a "yes" or "no" answer?
- What did you learn from the questions that you weren't able to know by just reading the referral?
Download the lesson plan here.