PSU Students Try Cases in Moot Court

December 18th, 2006 by Adam

A businessman of Middle Eastern heritage named Jamal Mosawa tries boarding a flight at an airport, but is stopped and searched by security guards, who believe he’s a potential terrorist. The airport security computer identifies him as a subject for a special search because of his Middle Eastern name and the fact that he has recently traveled to Egypt, a country with an active terrorist organization.

Mosawa is a United States citizen in the fictional state of New Plymouth. He is taken to a special security room and refuses to answer questions until he is told why he why being detained. When the guards attempt to perform a cavity search, there is a brief scuffle and he is arrested for disorderly conduct. He is eventually released, but files a lawsuit, claiming he’s been ‘racially profiled.’ A high-profile case on the evening news? Actually, it’s a class assignment for students in PSU professor Eric MacLeish’s “Individual and the Law” course. The “moot court” arguments are made by students acting as prosecutors or defense attorneys, who present their cases in front of judges in Plymouth District Court.

MacLeish, a successful trial lawyer in Boston, believes the role-playing in a real courtroom is a valuable learning experience, because students must research facts and prepare arguments rather than just memorize facts from a textbook.

“The setting for this exercise is a courtroom, but it could be an office, an operating room or a construction site,” said MacLeish. “Regardless of your choice of profession, it is critical that we teach our students how to research, write, think for themselves and, as we say in class, ‘assume nothing.’ It is also important that our students be able to express their positions clearly and to understand and not simply criticize opinions they may disagree with.”

Freshman Victoria Saunders argued to “Judge” John McKinnon (McKinnon is a local attorney) that a mentally impaired woman with chronic illness should not have the right to physician assisted suicide under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

“When I was first assigned this case by Professor MacLeish, I told him I wanted to argue the opposite position — in favor of a person’s right to choose to die,” said Saunders. “Now, I am not so sure. I see the other point of view; I may still disagree with it, but it is not unreasonable. That is what this exercise is all about.”

“I certainly learned how difficult it is to be asked questions and have to articulate an answer, clearly and consistently,” said Megan Brideau, a junior who advocated for the right to physician assisted suicide.
Other legal cases debated in MacLeish’s moot court include the legality of torturing a terrorist who had knowledge of a nuclear weapon attack, gay marriage and warrantless searches in PSU residence halls.

For more information, contact PSU Media Relations Mgr. Bruce Lyndes, 603-535-2775 or