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Liberty Law and forensic science students partner for annual mock trial

Liberty University’s School of Law and forensic science program participated in their annual mock trial on April 12-13, providing students from both disciplines the opportunity to implement their classwork into real-world application.

Liberty Law and forensic science students participated in a mock trial on April 12-13. (Photos provided)

This partnership, which is headed by associate law professor Phill Kline and forensic science professor Dr. J. Thomas McClintock, connected 13 third-year law students with 22 undergraduate forensic science students to analyze a simulated crime scene as members of either the prosecution or defense. The mock trial also included 15 different witnesses ­— composed of Liberty faculty, staff, and students as well as local citizens — in addition to a jury of 16, six of which were Liberty undergraduate students.

The case centered around an assault on a young disabled child, with a close family member being the accused party.

Kline called the mock trial a “dynamic interaction” and noted that it provided a much more immersive experience for students than other mock trials, which sometimes rely on a confined package of police reports.

“It is a reproduction as close to a real trial as you can get,” he said. “They dealt with 15 witnesses over two long days in what would normally be a four-day trial in the courtroom. Reproducing that affords the opportunity for them to learn things that you cannot teach through lecture but only through the experience itself.”

Professor Phill Kline (left) served as a judge and Dr. J Thomas McClintock (right) served as a magistrate for the event. 

McClintock estimated that many of his forensic science students spent roughly 100 hours preparing for the case, whether in class or on their own time, since receiving their assignments earlier this semester.

“The beauty of it is that what (students) have learned during this past 14 weeks, they can now apply it,” he said. “Textbooks are somewhat limited, but they get to actually apply what they’ve learned. They really have a good time, and they literally see how the legal system works.”

He also noted that the mock trial fulfills requirements set in place by the Forensic Science Programs Accreditation Committee, which accredits Liberty’s forensic program.

“(From) the reactions that I see, not only just emotional reactions and facial expressions but also with conversations, (students) are so excited to apply this new knowledge with the understanding that it’s not a lose-lose (situation),” McClintock said. ‘We don’t care if the jury comes back ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty.’ The objective is to have some hands-on experience. I think the undergraduate students are impressed with the third-year law students and vice versa. The third-year law students really praise the undergraduates because both sides need each other to have a successful mock trial. Overall, it’s a great experience and brings a lot of pride and joy to Professor Kline and myself that we are able to do this.”

Madison Dickson, a current third-year law student at Liberty, said she appreciated the opportunity to work with the forensic science students and praised the efforts of both McClintock and Kline to put on the event.

“I cannot express enough how professional and knowledgeable the forensic students were,” she said. “I learned so much from them, and without these students the trial literally would not have been possible. I was able to learn about SANE exams, DNA testing, serology, and so much more. I hope to one day be a prosecutor specifically in the area involving crimes against children. The knowledge that I gained during this experience is something that I cannot wait to take into the field with me as I graduate this year.“

Kline joined the School of Law in the spring of 2009. Prior to teaching at the law school, he served in Kansas as the Johnson County District Attorney where he managed over 8,500 criminal cases each year. After completing his studies in political science and public relations, Kline earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Kansas where he served as Associate Editor of the Kansas Law Review and Editor of the Kansas Criminal Justice Review. Kline also served as Kansas Attorney General and has successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

McClintock is one of the nation’s foremost DNA experts. In 2013, he was named among the top 15 DNA analysts in the country by ForensicColleges.com. He teaches undergraduate classes in forensic sciences and microbiology and a graduate-level course in microbial pathogenesis. McClintock founded DNA Diagnostics, Inc. in 1993, which provides expert DNA advice in criminal and paternity cases. The company also gives seminars and workshops to investigators and law enforcement officials on topics such as presenting DNA evidence in the courtroom, and handling and analyzing evidence. DNA Diagnostics has provided services for nearly 500 cases in 19 states, three Canadian territories, and three European countries. McClintock has provided expertise in high-profile investigations, including the 2008 case of missing Florida toddler Caylee Anthony and the 1985 murders of the parents of University of Virginia student Elizabeth Haysom in Bedford County.

The forensic science program regularly offers exercises for hands-on learning opportunities, including simulated crime scene investigations and bioterrorist attacks, where representatives from local and national law enforcement and emergency response agencies lend their expertise and guidance to students.

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