Psychology Professor Brian Burke treats his PSYC 302 class, Forensic Psychology, like a complex adventure. From day one, he and the students delve into the interaction between psychological science and the legal system by unpacking the details of a trial.
The class had nine weeks to meet in person during the Spring 2020 term. Their established relationships proved paramount when class moved online after Spring Break and Burke introduced the final project: a mock trial via Zoom, replete with a jury, lawyers, psych experts, an eyewitness, a defendant, and an alleged victim.
With Burke as judge donning his black robe against a virtual courtroom background, "The People v. Todd Smith" featured a riveting three weeks of failed polygraph tests, hypnosis, a lack of remorse by the defendant, and a pursuit of justice by a jury that was selected with the help of world-famous professional trial consultant, Tara Trask (Psychology,'94), who has worked with celebrity clients, including Dr. Phil. Trask walked the students through the psychology behind the jury selection process.
“It’s hard to replicate the classroom connections on Zoom, but the trial went well because of what we did in person,” says Burke. “Student attendance was near-perfect, and they were engaged throughout. Many felt it was a wonderful way to see all the material from the semester in action."
As for the verdict, for the first time in the history of PSYC 302, the jury found the defendant guilty.