We live in a complex world filled with challenging and often perplexing issues that we are expected to make sense of. Many social issues are analyzed and evaluated through our judicial system. This test is designed to give you the opportunity to think seriously and express your ideas about a complex social issue.
Imagine that you have been selected to serve on a jury that is asked to render a verdict on the following situation.
The defendant, Tom Randall, is a twenty-one-year-old college senior in a state where the legal drinking age is twenty-one. On October 21, he hosted a Halloween party in his apartment. Twenty-eight men and women attended the party. Alcohol was served, in the form of beer, wine, and liquor. One of the partygoers was Kelly Greene, an eighteen-year-old freshman at the same college. During the course of the evening, Ms. Greene allegedly consumed an undetermined amount of alcohol. While she was driving back to her dorm after the party, at approximately 12:15 a.m., Ms. Greene struck two students who were crossing the street at an intersection. One student, Melissa Anderson, was killed instantly. A second student, Edward Montgomery, was hospitalized with multiple fractures. The police officer at the scene gave the following report regarding the driver of the car, Kelly Greene: “I noticed that her speech was slurred, that she was not entirely coherent, and that her breath smelled of alcohol. I asked her to take a Breathalyzer test to determine the amount of alcohol in her bloodstream. She refused. I placed her under arrest.” Ms. Greene has been charged with Driving While Intoxicated and Vehicular Manslaughter. Her case is currently pending. Mr. Randall, the defendant in this case, is being charged with Involuntary Manslaughter. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in jail.
Instructions: For this week’s written assignment, go to the following link, read the material provided and answer questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8.
The evidence at judicial trials is presented through the testimony of witnesses called by the prosecution and the defense. To be effective critical thinkers, we should not simply accept information as it is presented. We need to try to determine the accuracy of the information and evaluate the credibility of the people providing the information. The testimony from the prosecution witnesses and the defense witnesses is described below. Evaluate the testimony by answering the questions that follow each witness.
I am the downstairs neighbor of the defendant, Thomas Randall, and have lived in the building for twenty years. These college kids tend to be noisy and keep late hours, especially the boys. I really don’t see how they’re able to learn anything at the college. Wild parties every weekend and sometimes even during the week. This party on Halloween was one of the wildest. Music loud enough to make your head burst; kids jumping around—I guess they call it dancing—so that the ceiling was shaking. Finally, at midnight I went up to ask them to please keep it down—after all, it was Thursday night and some of us have to work. What a scene! A young woman was leaving just as I arrived. I later found out she was Kelly Greene, the woman who ran over those two college students. Mr. Randall had his arm around her and was saying goodbye. The way she was acting—giggling, stumbling around—it was obvious she was drunk. She was an accident waiting to happen, and it did!
A. Summarize and evaluate all the information provided by the witness (Helen Brooks). Is the information relevant to the guilt or innocence of the defendant (Tom Randall)? Is the information accurate? Give reasons to support your answer.
B. Evaluate the credibility of the witness (Helen Brooks). Is the witness believable? Is the testimony fair or unfair, objective or biased? Are there factors that raise doubts about the accuracy of the testimony? Give reasons to support your answer.
I attended the party at Tom Randall’s apartment on Halloween. I didn’t actually receive an invitation—I came along with someone who did. I don’t really know him that well. This was a pretty wild party. The place was jammed, and people were out of control! Dancing, drinking, laughing, singing—you know. Mr. Randall was making the rounds, making sure that everyone was having a good time, encouraging them to drink. I saw him talking to Kelly Greene on several occasions. He kept forcing her to drink, even though she didn’t seem that willing. He said things like: “Have another drink, it’s the only way to have fun at parties like this,” and “Don’t worry, another drink won’t kill you.” I didn’t think he should have been doing that, pressuring her to drink and all. I really like Kelly. This is her first year here at school, and she’s really sweet. I don’t think she would have gotten in this trouble if she hadn’t been encouraged to drink too much. She’s only 18, a fact I’m sure Tom was aware of. As the host, it’s his responsibility to make sure that illegal drinking isn’t permitted and that when people leave they are capable of driving safely.
C. Summarize and evaluate the information provided by this witness (William Doyle). Is the information relevant to the guilt or innocence of the defendant (Tom Randall)? Is the information accurate? Give reasons to support your answer.
D. Evaluate the credibility of this witness (William Doyle). Is the witness believable? Is the testimony fair or unfair, objective or biased? Are there factors that raise doubts about the accuracy of the testimony? Give reasons to support your answer.
I’ve known Tom Randall for three years, and he’s one of the finest and most responsible people I know. Tom is a serious student, and he is also a very caring person. He plans to be a teacher and works as a volunteer with special education students in a local school. He would never do anything to intentionally hurt anyone. His only purpose in having the Halloween party was for people to enjoy themselves. He paid for the whole thing himself! As far as people drinking is concerned, the fact is that drinking is one of the major social activities on campus. Virtually everyone drinks, from their first semester until their last. It’s just the way things are here. People just don’t pay attention to the drinking age on campus. It’s as if the college is its own little world, with its own rules. The people at the party weren’t drinking because Tom was pressuring or encouraging them to. They were drinking because that’s what they do when they go to parties. If Tom hadn’t had alcohol there, people would have gone out and brought some back-or gone to a party that did have alcohol. I didn’t see Tom talk to Kelly, but he was circulating, trying to be a good host, seeing if people needed anything. He certainly wouldn’t try to “pressure” someone into having a drink they didn’t want to have. What happened with Kelly was a terrible, unfortunate accident—it certainly is something Tom should not be held responsible for.
A. Summarize and evaluate the information provided by the witness (Wendy Duvall). Is the information relevant to the guilt or innocence of the defendant (Tom Randall)? Is the information accurate? Give reasons to support your answer.
B. Evaluate the credibility of the witness (Wendy Duvall). Is the witness believable? Is the testimony fair or unfair, objective or biased? Are there factors that raise doubts about the accuracy of the testimony? Give reasons to support your answer.
Tom Randall (defendant)
I had been planning this Halloween party since school started in September. I thought that it would be fun and give me a chance to pay back students who had invited me to their parties. I had plenty of food and beverages on hand—soda and juice, as well as alcohol. Of course, I’m aware that the drinking age is 21 and that many students haven’t reached that age yet; but nobody really takes the law very seriously. After all, if you’re old enough to vote, get married, work, and be drafted, you should be old enough to drink. As far as my party was concerned, I felt that everyone had a right to make up their own minds—I just made the beverages available. Once people decided what they wanted to drink, I did try to keep them refilled. After all, that’s the job of a good host. I remember Kelly was drinking beer, and I probably did bring her one or two over the course of the evening. I don’t have any idea about the total amount of beer she had—I had no way of keeping track. I do remember saying goodbye to her, and she seemed in reasonably good shape. She was planning to drive. Looking back, I guess I should have paid more attention to her condition, but there were so many people there and so much was happening, I just didn’t think about it. This party was not unusual—it’s exactly like most of the parties that happen on campus. It’s just that they don’t usually end with someone dying.
C. Summarize and evaluate the information provided by the witness (Tom Randall). Is the information relevant to the guilt or innocence of the defendant (Tom Randall)? Is the information accurate? Give reasons to support your answer.
D. Evaluate the credibility of the witness (Tom Randall). Is the witness believable? Is the testimony fair or unfair, objective or biased? Are there factors that raise doubts about the accuracy of the testimony? Give reasons to support your answer.
Step Two: Asking Important Questions
Defense lawyers and prosecutors cross-examine the witnesses in order to help determine the credibility of the witnesses and the accuracy of their testimony.
Imagine that you are the defense lawyer. List below important questions that you would want to ask the prosecution witnesses.
Imagine that you are the prosecutor. List below important questions that you would want to ask the defense witnesses.
Step Three: Constructing Knowledge
One of the important goals of critical thinking is developing beliefs about the world that are well-founded. Often this process involves analyzing and synthesizing a variety of accounts in an effort to determine “what really happened.” In order to analyze and synthesize the testimony presented by the witnesses, answer the following questions:
Do you believe that Tom Randall knew that Kelly Greene was a minor and that she was breaking the law by drinking alcohol? Explain the reasons for your conclusion.
Do you believe that Mr. Randall personally served Ms. Greene alcohol? Do you believe that he encouraged or forced her to drink alcohol? Explain the reasons for your conclusion.
Do you believe that Mr. Randall was aware that Ms. Greene was intoxicated when she left his party? Do you believe he knew—or should have known—she would be driving home? Explain the reasons for your conclusion.
Step Four: Evaluating Expert Testimony
Evaluating Expert Testimony
In addition to average sources such as the previous witnesses, “experts”—people who have specialized knowledge in a particular area—often testify at trials. Included below is the testimony of two psychologists, Dr. Elizabeth Gonzalez and Dr. Richard Cutler, who provide contrasting analyses of the social drinking behavior of young people.
Dr. Elizabeth Gonzalez (prosecution witness)
I am a staff psychologist at a substance abuse center in town. Why do people drink to excess? Typically through the influence of the people around them, as happened to Kelly Greene. When most eighteen-year-old students enter college, they do not have a drinking problem. However, although few realize it, these unwary young people are entering a culture in which alcohol is the drug of choice. It is a drug that can easily destroy their lives. According to some estimates, between 80 percent and 90 percent of the students on many campuses drink alcohol (1). Many of these students are heavy drinkers (2). One study found that nearly 30 percent of university students are heavy drinkers, consuming more than fifteen alcoholic drinks a week (3). Another study found that among those who drink at least once a week, 92 percent of the men and 82 percent of the women consume at least five drinks in a row, and half said they wanted to get drunk (4). The results of all this drinking are predictably deadly. Virtually all college administrators agree that alcohol is the most widely used drug among college students and that its abuse is directly related to emotional problems and violent behavior, ranging from date rape to death (5, 6). For example, at one university, a twenty-year-old woman became drunk at a fraternity party and fell to her death from the third floor (7). At another university, two students were killed in a drunk-driving accident after drinking alcohol at an off-campus fraternity house. The families of both students have filed lawsuits against the fraternity (8). When students like Kelly Greene enter a college or university, they soon become socialized into the alcohol-sodden culture of “higher education,” typically at parties just like the one hosted by Mr. Randall. The influence of peer pressure is enormous. When your friends and fellow students are encouraging you to drink, it is extremely difficult to resist giving in to these pressures. In my judgment, students like Kelly Greene are corrupted by people like Tom Randall. He must share in the responsibility for her personal tragedy and for the harm that resulted from it.
A. Summarize Dr. Gonzalez’s analysis of why Mr. Randall and Ms. Greene behaved the way they did. Identify the main reasons that support her conclusion.
B. Evaluate the information provided by the witness (Dr. Gonzalez). Is the information relevant to the guilt or innocence of the defendant (Tom Randall)? Give reasons to support your answer.
Dr. Richard Cutler (defense witness)
I am a psychologist in private practice, and I am also employed by the university to be available for students who need professional assistance. The misuse of alcohol is a problem of all youth in our society, not just college students. For example, a recent study by the surgeon general’s office shows that one in three teenagers consumes alcohol every week. This is an abuse that leads to traffic deaths, academic difficulties, and acts of violence (9). Another study based on a large, nationally representative sample indicates that although college students are more likely to use alcohol, they tend to drink less quantity per drinking day than non-students of the same age (10). In other words, college students are more social drinkers than problem drinkers. Another sample of undergraduate students found that college drinking is not as widespread as many people think (11). The clear conclusion is that while drinking certainly takes place on college campuses, it is no greater a problem than in the population at large. What causes the misuse of alcohol? Well, certainly the influence of friends, whether in college or out, plays a role. But it is not the only factor. To begin with, there is evidence that family history is related to alcohol abuse. For example, one survey of college students found greater problem drinking among students whose parent or grandparent had been diagnosed (or treated) for alcoholism (12). Another study found that college students who come from families with high degrees of conflict display a greater potential for alcoholism (13). Another important factor in the misuse of alcohol by young people is advertising. A recent article entitled “It isn’t Miller time yet, and this Bud’s not for you” underscores the influence advertisers exert on the behavior of our youth (14). By portraying beer drinkers as healthy, fun-loving, attractive young people, they create role models that many youths imitate. In the same way that cigarette advertisers used to encourage smoking among our youth—without regard to the health hazards—so alcohol advertisers try to sell as much booze as they can to whoever will buy it—no matter what the consequences. A final factor in the abuse of alcohol is the people themselves. Although young people are subject to a huge number of influences, in the final analysis, they are free to choose what they want to do. They don’t have to drink, no matter what the social pressures. In fact, many students resist these pressures and choose not to drink. And if they do drink, they don’t have to get behind the wheel of a car.
C. Summarize Dr. Cutler’s analysis of why Mr. Randall and Ms. Greene behaved the way they did. Identify the main reasons that support his conclusion.
D. Evaluate the information provided by the witness (Dr. Cutler). Is the information relevant to the guilt or innocence of the defendant (Tom Randall)? Give reasons to support your answer.
Step Five: Evaluating Summation Arguments
We are in this courtroom today because Melissa Anderson’ s young life was tragically ended as a direct result of irresponsible behavior on the part of the defendant, Thomas Randall, who served Kelly Greene alcohol and encouraged her to drink, knowing that she was 3 years underage. Too often in criminal trials the victim is forgotten, while attention becomes focused on the lives of the living. Certainly this event is a tragedy for Mr. Randall and Ms. Greene, but it is a far greater tragedy for Melissa and her loved ones. She will never have the opportunity to live the rest of her life, and if people like Mr. Randall are permitted to act illegally without punishment, there will be many more tragedies like Melissa’s in the future.
When Mr. Randall provided alcohol and encouraged drinking for underage minors at his party, he was violating the law. And when Ms. Greene, one of these underage minors, left his party drunk, got behind a wheel, and killed an innocent human being, Tom Randall became an accessory to this senseless murder. Similarly, the university must assume its share of the blame. As the investigator into the death of the woman who fell to her death at a fraternity party noted: “If universities and colleges want to teach responsibility, there might be something to be said for teaching observance of the law—simply because it is the law” (15). If Mr. Randall had displayed respect for the law, then none of these events would have occurred, and Melissa would be alive today.
We have heard experts describe the destructive role that alcohol plays on college campuses and the devastating results of alcohol abuse. Students, in flagrant violation of the law, have made drinking a more common college activity than attending class or studying. When young, impressionable people like Kelly Greene enter these “hangover universities,” they are immediately drawn into a destructive alcoholic web—seduced, cajoled, and pressured to enter this culture of underage drinkers. And who creates this culture and its pressure? People like Thomas Randall, who “innocently” give booze parties for underage students and actively encourage them to drink. If students like Mr. Randall acted in a responsible and law-abiding fashion, then new students would not be seduced and pressured into these destructive behaviors. Violent tragedies associated with alcohol abuse would not occur, and students could focus on productive activities—like learning.
We have heard testimony that Mr. Randall was not an innocent participant in these events—he knew Ms. Greene was underage, he actively cajoled and encouraged her to get drunk, and he let her go home alone knowing she was in no condition to drive safely. Mr. Randall is not an evil person, but he is guilty of criminally irresponsible behavior, and he must be held accountable for his actions. Society must protect our young people from themselves and put an end to the destructive abuse of this dangerous drug.
A. Identify the key arguments used in the prosecution’s summation. Then summarize the reasons and conclusions for each argument.
B. Evaluate the strength of the arguments you identified by assessing the truth of the reasons and the extent to which the conclusions follow logically from the reasons.
The death of Melissa Anders is, of course, a tragedy. It was the direct result of Kelly Greene’s error judgment; and although she certainly didn’t intend for anything like this to occur, she must be judged for her responsibility. However, it makes no sense to rectify this tragedy by ruining Thomas Randall’s life. He is in no way responsible for the death of Melissa Anderson. All he did was host a party for his friends, the kind of party that takes place all the time on virtually every college campus. He is a victim of an unreasonable law-that you must be twenty-one years of age to drink alcohol. I’ll bet every person in this courtroom had at least one drink of alcohol before they were twenty-one years old. If people are mature enough to vote, drive cards, hold jobs, pay taxes, and be drafted, then they are mature enough to drink alcohol. And it’s unreasonable to expect a party host to run around playing policeman, telling guests who can drink and who can’t. As one college president noted: “It’s awfully hard to control a mixed-age group where some can drink and some can’t, but all are students. Since the consumption of alcohol is not in general an illegal activity—unlike marijuana or crack—you have this bizarre situation where at the mystic age of twenty-one, suddenly people can drink legally when they couldn’t the day before” (16).
In addition, we have heard experts describe how there are many factors that contribute to alcohol abuse—besides the influence of other people. The power of advertisers, family history, and the personal choices by individuals all play a role in whether someone is going to drink excessively. It is unfair to single out one person, like Tom Randall, and blame him for Ms. Greene’s behavior. Her decision to drink that night was the result of a variety of factors, most of which we will never fully understand. However, in the final analysis, Ms. Greene must be held responsible for her own free choices. When Kelly Greene attended Tom Randall’s party, nobody forced her to drink—there were plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available. And after she chose to drink, nobody forced her to attempt to drive her car home—she had other alternatives. Ultimately, there was only one person responsible for the tragic events of that evening, and that person is Kelly Greene.
We live in a society in which people are constantly trying to blame everyone but themselves for their mistakes or misfortunes. This is not a healthy or productive approach. If this society is going to foster the development of independent, mature citizens, then people must be willing to accept responsibility for their own freely made choice sand not look for scapegoats like Mr. Randall to blame for their failings.
A. Identify the key arguments used in the defense’s summation. Then summarize the reasons and the conclusions for each argument.
B. Evaluate the strength of the arguments you identified by assessing the truth of the reasons and the extent to which the conclusions follow logically from the reasons.
Step Six: Deliberating Issues
Following the final summation, the judge will sometimes give specific instructions to clarify the issues to be considered. For the defendant, Thomas Randall, to be found guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter, the prosecution must prove that although he did not intend destructive results, he was guilty of irresponsible behavior that was likely to result in harm. Following the judge’s “Charge,” the jury then retires to deliberate the case and render a verdict.
In the same way that words are the vocabulary of language, concepts are the vocabulary of thought. Concepts are general ideas that we use to bring order and intelligibility to our experience. They give us the means to understand our world and make informed decisions, to think critically and act intelligently. The process of arriving at an informed conclusion regarding this case involves understanding the concepts of “freedom” and “responsibility.” In order to conclude that the defendant was guilty of “irresponsible behavior that was likely to result in harm,” it is necessary that we believe that he was responsible for his actions and their likely consequences: he knew what he was doing, chose to do it freely, and so must be held accountable. On the other hand, if we are to conclude that the defendant is not guilty of the charge, we must believe that he was not responsible for his actions. We must believe either that circumstances interfered with his ability to make a free choice or that it is unreasonable to expect that he would have been able to anticipate the destructive consequences of his actions.
Step Seven: Reaching a Verdict
Reaching a verdict in a situation like this involves complex processes of reasoning and decision making. In your discussion with the other jurors, you must decide if the evidence indicates, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant should have anticipated the destructive consequences of his behavior. In other words, did the defendant (Thomas Randall) knowingly encourage an underage woman (Kelly Greene) to drink excessively? When she left the party, should he have recognized her inebriated condition and made sure that she was not intending to drive home? Should he have been able to anticipate that terrible consequences might result if she tried to drive in her inebriated state? The principle of beyond a reasonable doubt is difficult to define in specific terms, but in general the principle means that it would not make good sense for thoughtful men and women to conclude otherwise.
Based on your analysis of the evidence and arguments presented in this case, write your verdict and explain your reasons for reaching this conclusion.
Step Eight: Solving Problems
As illustrated by this case, the abuse of alcohol by young people at colleges and universities is a national problem. The following passages present a variety of perspectives on the causes and possible solutions to this problem. Read the passages and answer the questions that follow.
1.Advertising and promotion of alcoholic beverages on college campuses and in college publications should be banned. Restrictions should be imposed on liquor distributors that sponsor campus events. In addition, alcoholic beverage companies should be petitioned not to target young people in their ads.
2.Students should be able to live in “substance free” housing, offering them a voluntary haven from drugs, alcohol, and peer pressure.
3.Colleges should ban or tightly restrict alcohol use on campus, and include stiffer penalties for students who violate the rules.
4.Colleges should create alcohol-free clubs to combat alcohol abuse and find alternatives to bars for students who are under twenty-one.
5.The drinking age should be reduced to eighteen, so that students won’t be forced to move their parties off-campus. At off-campus parties there is no college control, and as a result students tend to drink greater quantities and more dangerous concoctions like spiked punches.
6.Colleges should ban the use of beer kegs, the symbol of cheap and readily available alcohol.
7.Colleges should create education programs aimed at preventing alcohol abuse, and colleges should give campaigns against underage drinking top priority.
8.Fraternities should eliminate pledging in order to stop alcohol abuse and hazing.
Explain, clearly, and specifically, the reasons why you think that alcohol abuse among college students is a problem and what you believe is the essence or heart of the problem.
Identify three realistic alternatives for solving this problem. Evaluate each alternative in terms of its advantages and disadvantages. Explain what further information would be required to determine each alternative’s effectiveness.
Further information needed:
Further information needed:
Further information needed:
Select your most promising alternative. Explain the steps you would take to implement it.