Court-Room Cross Examination: A Witness and Pre-Law Education

By Jessica Cuevas

As the spring semester came to a close, the LEAP Ambassadors were invited to an event by Gene Roberts, Director of SHSU’s Student Legal and Mediation Services. As many of us are aspiring attorneys, we were thrilled to accept his invitation to a cross-examination simulation of several of Dr. Conroy’s Forensic Psychologist PhD students, as they practiced rendering their professional opinions on whether defendants were mentally competent to stand trial.

This event took place inside the Kerper Courtroom, where Mr. Roberts cross-examined the students, who all prepared and presented different cases. To kick off this event, one of the students conducted a direct examination of the first witness, asking them to explain what it means to be mentally competent and how they came to the conclusion that the defendant was not competent. Once the direct examination was over, the witness was passed to Mr. Roberts to be cross-examined.

His questioning was intense and intimidating, even for those of us just watching, but he explained to us that he firmly believes that a “tough practice makes for an easy performance.” Having to come up with different cross-examination questions for each of the students and improvise questioning tactics seems like a challenging thing to do, but Mr. Roberts’ performance was impressive.

This was not just an amazing opportunity for us to spectate, but also for the PhD students, since they got a “free trial” of what they may have to endure in their careers, should they decide to work as forensic psychologists. Mr. Roberts mentioned that he likes to “take a bold and theatrical approach to the cross-examination for these students,” which he says “provide[s] them with something unexpected to handle themselves better under intense pressure.”

Mr. Roberts told us that he has “been impressed that these students always do a good job with that pressure,” and even though the judge, jury, and Mr. Roberts would not condone his belligerent behavior in actual practice, he has observed attorneys who have behaved in such a manner, and therefore wants for SHSU students to be prepared for anything.

After Mr. Roberts finished his cross-examination, he provided feedback and advice to each of the witnesses on how they can do better in the future. We learned a lot that evening about the process of determining competency, but it was also a great opportunity to see how to question a witness.

The LEAP Ambassadors want to thank Mr. Roberts for the invitation and Dr. Conroy for letting us observe the event.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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