Students trade the classroom for the courtroom

The Constitutional Law II class at Mercyhurst College traded the classroom for the courtroom on Feb. 15 and 17 under the eye of Mercyhurst Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Tina Fryling, J.D.

For these sessions, she was known as ‘Judge Tina.’

The 42 senior criminal justice students in this capstone course took on the role of prosecutors, defense attorneys and witnesses in three mock trials. The jury for these trials were comprised of fellow students, faculty, and even friends and family members.

The first case was heard Tuesday from 12:10 to 2:05 p.m. in the Mercy Heritage Room. The case was a homicide, in which the defendant was accused of killing his stepfather. His lawyers used the “battered child syndrome” as a defense.

That same day, from 2:15 to 4:10, the second case was introduced, which was about an aggravated robbery at Herb World. The final case was heard Thursday from 12:10 to 2:05, and centered on the murder of a 4-year-old girl in a drive-by shooting.

This is Fryling’s 11th year staging mock trials for her students. They allow students to test their knowledge of constitutional law and develop questioning techniques, critical thinking and oral advocacy skills, Fryling said.

There are several other benefits to participating in a mock trial experience.

“In general, the mock trial assists students with organizational skills, learning to think about and anticipate the opposite side of an issue, and generally learning about courtroom procedure and practice,” Fryling said.

Although Fryling has several students who take this class because they are interested in becoming lawyers, most of her students are interested in going into law enforcement. For these students, mock trial is a great experience to prepare them for their future careers.

Participating in the mock trial will help law officers prepare testimony and will assist them in collecting evidence, as they will understand what the defense might potentially ask them in the courtroom on cross-examination.

“In Pennsylvania and many other states, a police officer acts as the prosecutor in low level criminal cases in front of a district magistrate. Those officers need to know everything about procedure and how to present a case,” Fryling said. “Officers also spend a lot of time testifying in court and need to understand why objections are being made in the courtroom, why certain questions are being asked of them and courtroom procedure in general.”

Not only is mock trial an extremely beneficial experience for students, but they also enjoy participating.

“They look forward to it and actually get pretty passionate about winning, even though I tell them it’s not about the winning; it’s about how they present what they have learned,” Fryling said.