Have students read Handout 1: Appointment and Role of Judges as a homework assignment preceding this lesson.
Activity 1: Judge Rulings
Judges are tasked with making decisions in cases regarding guilt or innocence and regarding sentencing. This activity looks at some of those cases.
Comparing the Sentences of Two Cases
The following cases illustrate the factors judges consider when sentencing a person convicted of a driving-related offence.
Regina vs. Homer
In January 2003, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld the sentence of a woman who was convicted of impaired driving causing death. In this case, the woman entered a guilty plea to the charge and was sentenced to three years imprisonment. The impaired driving resulted in the death of a young woman who was walking home from work.
The Court of Appeal case report for R. vs. Homer can be found at:
R. vs. Khosa and Bhalru
About a month later, two young drivers were each convicted of criminal negligence causing death. The young men were involved in a street race, driving separate vehicles, when one of the vehicles lost control and struck and killed a pedestrian on the sidewalk. The trial judge sentenced each of the men to a conditional sentence for a term of two years less one day, followed by probation for a term of three years. Both men have since been deported to their country of origin, which is India.
The Supreme Court of Canada case report for R. vs. Khosa and Bhalru can be found at www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/03/02/2003BCSC0221.htm.
The sentences in the two cases were quite different and it was this disparity that caught the attention of the media and the public.
You may choose to prepare a summary of the facts and history of the cases yourself or have students perform this task. Afterwards, the following questions can be discussed as a class or, if you have students prepare the summary, you can have students answer these questions as an assignment:
- How is this case different than the street racing case in terms of the state of mind of the accused?
- What factors did the judge use to determine the sentence?
- What does the Court of Appeal say about the capacity of the sentencing judge to determine the facts and assess the social circumstances surrounding the incident?
- Do you think a period of incarceration will accomplish the goals of the justice system to denounce and deter the kind of behaviour that occurred here?
- How important is it to have decisions in similar cases consistent?
Appealing a Case
Regina vs. Kelly Ellard
The second case to be considered on this issue is the recent decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Kelly Ellard. Ms. Ellard was convicted by a trial court in Victoria in the murder of Reena Virk. The Court of Appeal ordered that Ms. Ellard stand trial again because the Court of Appeal determined that she had not received a fair trial.
Have students read the report of this case. You can find reports of the first trial decision at www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb%2Dtxt/sc/00/05/s00%2D0564.htm and the Court of Appeal decision at www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb%2Dtxt/ca/03/00/2003bcca0068.htm. In order to follow the facts and issues in this case it is only necessary to read the Court of Appeal’s reasons for judgment.
After considering the cases, have the class discuss the following questions:
- The justices in this appeal are critical of both the crown counsel and the trial judge in this case. What is the basis of their criticism?
- Why should it be the duty of the crown to prove a person is guilty of a crime?
- What was the effect of the kind of questioning cited in the case report?
- What should the trial judge have done in the circumstances?
- Should the nature of the crime excuse this kind of questioning?
- Do you think Kelly Ellard got a fair trial?
- Do you think the Court of Appeal has performed a good service in this case to preserve justice from disrepute?
- Do you think that Ms Ellard should have to undergo another trial and what do you think will be the result?
Activity 2: Being a Juror
Have students read Handout 2: Jury Role and Selection. They can use this information to complete the questions on Handout 3: Fact or Opinion? Can You Decide? These may be given as homework if you are short on time. Go over the answers to Handout 3: Fact or Opinion with your class to ensure understanding of the material.
Next, provide students this scenario and ask them the questions that follow it. Students can use this task to test their listening skills and gain an appreciation of how difficult it is to be a jury member (or a judge) in cases.
January 2, 1990 was a cold winter’s day. The road was extremely icy and visibility was poor. A green Ford Mustang attempted to come to a stop at the stop sign on the corner of Alma and 10th. The car slid through the stop sign and hit a red Toyota Celica. The collision caused a dent to the driver’s door of the Celica and a dent to the front of the Mustang. The driver of the Mustang was a female Caucasian approximately 5 feet tall with short light brown hair and brown eyes.
You are a member of a jury. What facts do you remember?
What date did the accident occur?
January 2, 1990
What were the weather conditions?
Cold winter’s day
What were the road conditions?
Where did the accident occur?
Corner of Alma and 10th
What is the description of the car that slid through the stop sign?
Green Ford Mustang
What is the description of the car that was hit?
Red Toyota Celica
What damage was done to the Mustang?
Dent to the front
What damage was done to the Celica?
Dent to driver’s door
What is the description of the driver, who slid through the stop sign?
Female Caucasian, 5 feet tall, brown eyes, short light brown hair
Activity 3: Legal Counsel
Have students read Handout 4: Legal Counsel. Afterwards, remind students that leading questions are not allowed when a witness is being questioned in direct examination. A short exercise follows that you can read to the students or put on an overhead.
Ask students whether the following are leading questions or not:
Where were you on December 11, 200_?
Tell us what you saw.
Were you at the corner of Fir and Broadway?
Did you see a green truck hit the red car?
What happened next?
How fast was the car traveling?
Would you say the car was traveling a 100 km/hour?
Was the traffic light red?
Did the thief have curly hair?
Ask students in what situations counsel are allowed to ask leading questions? Leading questions are allowed during Cross-examination.
Discuss what an objection is and why counsel object. Make sure the students understand what the judge means when s/he says "sustained" or "overruled" as this idea can be confusing to the students. If the objection has no value then the judge overrules it and counsel can ask the same question again. If the objection is sustained then the counsel has to ask a different question or rephrase the question so it is within the rules of evidence.
Handout 5: I Object! can be used to give the students some practice making objections. It shows several types of objections the students can make, especially if they are doing a non-scripted trial.
Activity 4: Would You be a Good Witness?
Have students read Handout 6: Court Clerk and Sheriff as well as Handout 7: Other People in Court before beginning this activity. At the beginning of the activity, discuss the different types of witnesses with your class. Also ask students what is the difference between a victim witness and someone who saw an incident happen.
Have your school secretary, or someone unknown to the students, come into the classroom unexpectedly. Arrange for that person to either hand you something or for you to give them something while you are teaching an unrelated subject. If your class has a flair for the dramatic and would not be upset, that person could steal your wallet or purse after wandering about the class for a while and then run out. You could yell at the person to stop or ask them why they have your wallet. The person should say or yell, "stay back" to you and make a threatening or pushing motion. This is to establish the threat of force, which would make this scenario a robbery and not just a theft.
Once the person has left the classroom, ask your students to be a good witness by writing down a detailed description of the person and what that person did on Handout 8: Robbery Suspect Description Form. This form will need some adjustment to be used for a non-dramatic case.
Discuss their descriptions and the details from their observations. Then ask the person to return to the classroom so that the students can compare their observations with the factual details. Have the person tell the students his/her age, weight and height so that the students can see how close they came to being accurate. Have the person tell the class what words were spoken.
What are some difficulties in being a good witness?
- Memory may not be accurate especially concerning details
- An event may happen unexpectedly and quickly
- The accused person or defendant might be a friend of the witness or a threatening individual
- The person may be upset by what happened or by what s/he observed
- Why should you be a witness?
- What would happen if no one stepped forward to testify in court?
Discuss with your students why it is important to be a witness (in a civil or criminal case). Talk about civic duty and responsibility and that in order to convict people or assess damages, evidence has to be presented to the court through witnesses.
The students can have a further opportunity to see how difficult it can be to remember the details when you are a witness. Have the students study the picture (look for Fire Picture under resources) for 30 seconds and then answer the questions on Handout 9: How are Your Powers of Observation?
Once the students have completed the activity, discuss some of the reasons that people see different things. The reasons would include past experience, perspective, the length of time between observing and relating the observations, and the fact that many witnesses do not make their own notes of what they observed. Compare and contrast this to professional witnesses such as police officers or expert witnesses who do use notes to assist their memories. These witnesses are allowed to refer to their notes in court and often their notes are requested by the opposing counsel for the purposes of fact finding and cross-examination.
Activity 5: Court Personnel in a Trial
Provide students with Handout 10: People in a Criminal Trial. This will give students an idea of what a criminal courtroom looks like, the names of the court personnel, and what they do. Ask them to look at it for one minute and then turn it over to fill in the names of people in court.
Next, students will test their knowledge on what they have learned about court personnel by answering the questions on Handout 11: Court Personnel Roles and Handout 12: What Do You Know about Court Personnel?