The Supreme Court of Virginia: A Moot Court
OverviewIndividual liberties and public interest are at stake in two Virginia court cases engaged in this moot court: Rudolph v. Commonwealth (2009) and Cost v. Commonwealth (2008). Students will think about and analyze the decisions of the Virginia Court of Appeals in two cases involving searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Prior to the moot court (approximately two weeks): Review with students Handout #1: Structure of the Virginia Judicial System using information provided in the background information of this lesson.
The teacher should divide the class into two groups—one group will represent the Cost case and the other group the Rudolph case.
After the groups have been formed, the teacher should assign students within each group the following roles:
- Attorneys for the appellant (two students).
- Attorneys for the respondent (two students).
- Virginia Supreme Court Justices (seven students, one of which should be assigned the role of chief justice).
- Court reporters (two students).
The numbers of students taking each role can be changed to accommodate classes of various sizes.
At the time that the roles are assigned, distribute the following handouts to the appropriate groups:
- Handout #2: Instructions for Appellant and Respondent Attorneys;
- Handout #3: Instructions for Virginia Supreme Court Justices;
- Handout #4: Instructions for Court Reporters;
- Handout #5: Darrio L. Cost v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Brief of Appellant;
- Handout #6: Darrio L. Cost v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Brief for the Commonwealth;
- Handout #7: Demetres J. Rudolph v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Brief of Appellant;
- and Handout #8: Demetres J. Rudolph v. Commonwealth of Virginia, Brief for the Commonwealth.
- Note: The following court decisions should not be shared with any other students. Distribute Handout #9: Court Decision for the Cost Case and Handout #10: Court Decision for the Rudolph Case to the two court reporters for that case. Advise the court reporters to keep the information contained in their handouts confidential.
Students should be advised to read their instructions and materials to fully prepare for their roles by the date of the moot court.
Before students arrive to class, arrange the classroom with tables for the justices at the front of the room and tables for the attorneys for the appellant and the respondent on opposite sides of the room facing the justices. There should also be a podium placed in front of the justices from which the attorneys will present their arguments.
The following procedures should be used for both the Cost and the Rudolph oral arguments. The chief justice should ask each side to present their arguments in the following order:
- Five minute initial argument for the appellant attorneys.
- Five minute initial argument for the respondent attorneys.
- Three minute rebuttal for the appellant attorneys.
- Three minute rebuttal for the respondent attorneys.
- The justices may ask the attorneys questions at any time.
After the oral arguments have been presented, the justices should deliberate and vote on a decision with each justice presenting reasons for his/her decision.
The chief justice should then tally the votes and announce the decision of the court (a majority of votes is required). A dissenting opinion may also be presented. The remainder of the class should listen to the opinions of the justices, but may not interrupt the deliberations of the court.
The teacher should then conduct a class discussion concerning the court's decision and reasoning including both the majority and minority opinions.
The court reporters assigned to the case should then present to the class their summary of the actual majority and minority opinions of the Supreme Court of Virginia in the cases.
The teacher should lead a class discussion with the students reacting to the actual Supreme Court of Virginia decisions. Key “talking points” for the Cost and Rudolph majority and minority opinions are explained in Handout #11: Talking Points for Group Discussion. Page references in the handout refer to the page in the opinion where additional information about a particular talking point can be found. Questions that the teacher might ask could include:
- What facts did the Justices who wrote the majority and minority opinions identify as critical in reaching their decisions?
- How did the justices who wrote the majority and minority opinions frame the key issues presented in the case?
- What key facts or issues did you believe the majority or minority opinion ignored?
- In your opinion, is the majority or the minority opinion a better reasoned opinion? Why?
After the students have concluded their moot court activities with respect to the Cost and Rudolph cases and debriefed the decisions of the majority and minority opinions, the teacher should continue to debrief the activity by asking the students the following questions:
- How are the cases and the court decisions similar or different?
- Are the decisions in the two cases consistent or inconsistent? Why?
- Using the majority decisions in the two cases as a guide, how would you summarize the law in Virginia with respect to searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment?
- What do these decisions mean for defendants in Virginia and for all residents of the Commonwealth?
Use this background information while explaining Handout #1: Structure of the Virginia Judicial System.
The Supreme Court of Virginia is Virginia’s court of final resort and possesses both original and appellate jurisdiction. Virginia does not permit an appeal to the Supreme Court as a matter of right except in cases involving the Virginia State Corporation Commission, the disbarment of an attorney, and review of a lower court decision involving the death penalty. The Supreme Court of Virginia has a total of seven Justices (a Chief Justice and six additional Justices).
This moot court activity is a lesson requiring advanced analytical skills. It is designed primarily for 12th-grade government classes with students possessing such skills. The lesson can be adapted for 12th-grade students who struggle with analytical skills and for 8th-grade civics and economics classes. The adaptation would include spending more time in class prior to the moot court activity to assist the students in analyzing the legal briefs and court decisions, and helping them prepare their assigned roles.In addition, the time periods for the oral arguments can be shortened.