LEARNING GUIDE TO:
12 ANGRY MEN
SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 - 1991 & The Law;
1957 Version: Age: 11+; No MPAA Rating; Drama; 96 minutes; B & W; Available from Amazon.com.
1997 Version: Age: 11+; MPAA Rating -- PG-13 for language; Drama; 117 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Description: These movies depict jury deliberations in a murder trial. The first vote is 11 to 1 to convict but through rational argument and persuasion, bias and prejudice are overcome and justice is done. Both films are excellent, however the original black and white version is better in terms of artistic merit than the 1997 remake.
Rationale for Using the Movie: 12 Angry Men shows a reasonable approximation of what happens behind the closed doors of the jury room and the dynamic of jury deliberations.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will be introduced to the inner workings of the American jury system and will be motivated to do their best on research and writing assignments. The film can also be used to introduce the concept of due process in the legal system.
Possible Problems: None. The jury is all-male; the play on which the film is based was made in the days when women were not allowed to serve on juries in most jurisdictions. There is some profanity.
LEARNING GUIDE MENU
SUGGESTIONS FOR USING 12 ANGRY MEN IN THE CLASSROOM
Introduction to the Movie and Closing:
Before showing the movie, tell the class that the film shows a realistic view of jury deliberations.
At the end of the movie, tell the class that the conviction of innocent people is still a serious problem in the United States. For example, in 2000 the governor of Illinois issued a moratorium on death sentences in his state because more than 13 people who had been convicted and sentenced to death were later found to be innocent and at least one innocent man had been executed.
After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.
1. The dissenting juror may have suspected that the young man actually did kill his father. Why does he still argue that the young man should be acquitted of the charges? Suggested Response: The dissenting juror understands that a conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt and he pursues his doubts relentlessly yet patiently and with respect for the other juror's opinions.
2. What are some of the policy reasons underlying the requirement that before a person can be convicted of a crime, every member of a jury vote for conviction? Suggested Response: Students will give answers based on the movie, referring to the jurors who wanted to go to the ball game or who were prejudiced for some reason against the defendant. Guide the discussion to the following points: the state is powerful and has many resources and because often individuals accused of a crime have few ways to protect themselves, the state is held to a high burden when it tries to fine or imprison someone. This is the same reason why the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. These requirements result in some guilty people going free, but it is better for that to happen than to wrongfully convict, fine, or imprison even one person who is innocent. Experience shows that even with the protections of due process, some innocent people are convicted or are forced into plea bargains. The rates of erroneous convictions would soar if the government was not required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to every one of the jurors hearing the case.
3. What is "due process of law" and why is it important? Suggested Response: Even students who have not formally studied the concept of due process should have an intuitive understanding of the concept. Guide the discussion to the concepts that follow.
Due process is more than just important. It is essential in a government of ordered liberty because it is important to individuals that when government makes a decision affecting them, that the decision be made fairly. If the government takes action without due process, it will lose the loyalty of its citizens.
4. What would you think about due process if a member of your family was killed and the killer was acquitted because the prosecutor made mistakes and did not prove his case? Suggested Response: Obviously, one would be angry and upset. A good answer will recognize that the system of justice is not perfect and that sometimes we don't get perfect justice. Turn the question, how would they feel if their relative or they themselves were accused of a crime they did not commit and then they were convicted and had to go to jail?
For seven additional discussion questions, click here.
Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:
1. Research the evolution of the Innocence Project and present the information to the class as an example of how often trials can result in wrongful conviction. Use a Power Point format and include your sources of information.
2. Look up the concept of "due process" and write a formal essay in which you evaluate the film in terms of its adherence to the principle of "fundamental fairness."
3. Write a newspaper account of the process by which the jurors determined that the accused in the case described in 12 Angry Men was innocent of the crime. You may want to make up quotes and attribute comments to various jurors that explain why they voted for or against conviction and ultimately changed their minds.
See also Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
This film is one of a triumvirate which help students understand due process. The other two are The Ox-Bow Incident and Stand and Deliver. See also Plea Bargaining in the American Justice System, Using a Clip from the film American Violet.
See TWM's Short Essay on Due Process in the Trial of Criminal Cases.
Parenting Points: Watch the movie with your child and assure your child that situations have occurred when one juror has turned a jury around.
Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.
Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.
This Learning Guide written by James Frieden and Mary RedClay and was last updated on August 12, 2013.
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