COURT TRIP to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts

Under “Daily Court Schedules,” under Boston, click on the date you wish to see.

Scroll through to see the start times of the various proceedings on the docket for that day. You are primarily interested in a criminal trial (i.e. U.S. v. Joe Smith) that is listed as Jury Trial Day___.

To find out why the defendant is on trial, Google i.e., “Joe Smith arrested Massachusetts.” That often yields either a news story or a Department of Justice new release detailing the charges.

There are also civil trials; you will still want a trial that is listed as Jury Trial Day_____. A bench trial is also an option, but not the preferred choice.

No jury trials begin in the afternoon. But you are likely to find a “Sentencing” listed at 2:00, 2:30 or 3:oo p.m., and if so, you can look up the case (same search terms: Joe Smith arrested Massachusetts) to see when the person was convicted and what the sentencing guidelines are.

Do NOT attend anything labeled “(status/pretrial/ scheduling conference,” “motion/ADR  hearing,” or anything identified on the docket as “remote proceeding only.”


The calendar tells you what time the trial starts. If it starts at 9:00, they will probably break for lunch at around 12:30-1:00 (this varies and could be earlier if there’s a convenient break in the flow of the trial). Mornings are better because the docket is more crowded, giving you options, and trials often begin at 9:00 and conclude for the day at 1:00. 
Screening at the entrance: You’ll have to put your backpack and keys (empty your pockets) and laptop/phone into a container and go through a metal detector, then leave your laptop/cellphone with them. Retrieve your items on the way out. Carry a photo i.d., which you will need to show as part of the court’s security screening. Carry a pen and notebook in with you to take notes on the proceedings.  
Dress in a way that will make you inconspicuous in a room full of well-dressed, no ripped jeans or sweatpants, or sequined halter-top dress. On the other hand, you don’t need to dress to impress or wear a suit. It is a public building, a public process, and you are being an admirable citizen just by showing up and watching.   
Observers and attorneys come and go in and out of the courtroom, so if you arrive at 10:30 instead of 9:00, and leave at 12:00 instead of 1:00, that's fine, too. Personally, I'm not comfortable walking in and out a bunch of times while people are testifying, so in my case, I like to be there right when the morning session starts and I wait for a lull in the action to walk out.   
Noise carries pretty well inside the courtrooms, so if you are talking to someone next to you, even in a loud whisper, it's not unlikely that someone else will hear you. I am careful not to point at people or converse with others in the courtroom. It is the worst day of someone’s life, or one of the worst days, so I don’t want to be any memorable part of that for them.  


For public transportation or driving directions, go to the Moakley courthouse website and scroll down: 



Go to the OMG WTF book and determine what sections of that book inform your understanding of the judicial proceeding you observed. Citing from that book, and referring to any relevant past cases or discussions this semester, write a single-spaced 800-1,000 word paper (titles, names, dates, direct quotes and footnotes/endnotes are never part of word count; list the word length underneath your name).

Your paper should contextualize the case within contemporary legal, political, and social culture.  For example, if this is a case in which police are accused of violating an inmate’s civil rights, you should build a context for the case by discussing contemporary attitudes and controversies in policing and incarceration. If it’s a fraud case, you should build a context for it by examining the larger issue (the need for public trust in corporate conduct) and the depiction of such breaches in popular culture (film, series, current news stories).

Read, understand, and summarize (with analysis) the line of cases that preceded this particular case (the cases can be, but needn’t be, local); you can find them through Google, Google Scholar, and the library databases. Do your own thinking. That’s the assignment.

Compose formal prose free of legal jargon that is not organic to your way of thinking about the issues. Don’t use legal terms you do not understand thoroughly. Use last names, not “the plaintiff,” and plain English language terms. When you need to use a legal term, develop an understanding of the term first, and use it only as necessary to the development of your argument. For example, you wouldn’t be able to write about Pena-Rodriguez without using the term “voir dire,” but you wouldn’t at all need to use terms like “petitioner” and “respondent.”

The paper should be not only thoroughly informative but persuasive.

Do not use the first person.

Find a compelling title.

Quote from, and appropriately cite, with MLA parenthetical citations, footnotes, or endnotes, your sources.

The paper should be engaging, organized, and entirely free of grammatical, syntactical, or mechanical errors.

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