Using a Mock Trial to Teach Science and the Law

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Over the course of 3 years, the Political Science and Biology Programs at a regional HBCU have built a curricular learning community centered on a mock trial competition, where a microbiology course was paired with an introductory legal studies course. Over the course of a semester, students enrolled in both courses studied a real appellate case that dealt with some aspect of forensic science (DNA evidence for example). The legal studies students were to act as prosecution and defense and the microbiology students played the role of expert witnesses and consultants. To be successful, students had to build an interdisciplinary team, outline their side’s case, and learn scientific and legal principles. This paper evaluates the impact of this experience on student learning using a mixed-methods approach. Students completed a self-reported knowledge survey and participated in a focus group debriefing session. Students report important gains in understanding the legal system and aspects of forensic science.

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