Lesson Plans Based on Movies & Film!                                                  

Terms of Use   


    Plea Bargaining in the American Justice System
    -- An Introduction Using a Clip from the film American Violet

    Subject:     U.S. 1991 - Present; Civics; Plea Bargaining;

    Ages:          13+ (MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, violence, drug references
                            and language).

    Length:       Snippet: 31 minutes; Lesson: One and one-half 45 - 55 minute class periods.

    Learner Outcomes/Objectives:     Students will learn about plea bargaining, the public policy decisions on which plea bargaining is based, and some of the problems with the practice. Students will address the issues raised by plea bargaining through class discussion and writing assignments.

    Rationale:     The U.S. criminal justice system is primarily a system of plea bargains. 95% of all persons prosecuted for crimes in the U.S. end up pleading guilty in return for reduced charges or a lighter sentence. This lesson plan will provide students with a vivid illustration of the strong pressures that are brought to bear on defendants to agree to a plea bargain, regardless of whether they are guilty.

    Description of the Film Clip:     This film is a fact-based account of a young African-American mother arrested in a racially motivated drug sweep by a Texas county District Attorney. She resists pressure to agree to a plea bargain.
    Note to Teachers: For a Post-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet for AP or honors classes see American Violet Supplemental Materials.

    Students at any level who see this section of the movie may ask to see the rest of the film, which contains several important lessons about the power of an individual to resist injustice and to right a wrong through the legal system. The entire movie is 103 minutes in length.

    After refusing to agree to a plea bargain, the film's heroine is bailed out of jail by her mother. She is then approached by the American Civil Liberties Union which has evidence that the local District Attorney has conducted a series of racially motivated mass arrests without probable cause. Ms. Roberts agrees to become the plaintiff in a lawsuit brought to stop the abuse and endures difficulties and tests before the case succeeds. Possible problems with showing the entire film are minor — there are some threatening domestic altercations between Ms. Roberts and her former husband which may be disturbing to some children.

    For additional discussion questions and assignments for use when the entire movie is shown, see the American Violet Supplemental Materials.

Learner Outcomes/Objectives
Description of the Snippet
Using the Snippet in Class:
      Step by Step
      Step by Step

Supplemental Materials on a Different Web Page:

AP and Honors Level Lesson Plan

Discussion Questions and Assignments for using the whole movie.


Location: The snippet starts at the beginning of the movie and runs through the scene in which Ms. Robert's friend accepts a plea bargain and is released. Stop the film right after Dee sinks to the floor of the cell, her head in her hands. This is about 31 minutes into the film.

Possible Problems with this Snippet: None.

What about showing the whole movie? It's a great idea! See Note to Teachers at the top of this Snippet Lesson Plan.

For selected awards, cast and director, click here.

Reminder: Obtain all required permissions from school administrators before showing this snippet.

This film is available from Amazon.com.


Essays are to be written according to the essay rubric established in class. When paragraphs are called for, they should be written according to the rubric for paragraphs established in class.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this snippet can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.