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Feature Law Students and Police Officers Get Hands-On Experience in UO Evidence Lab By Rebecca

Feature

Law Students and Police Officers Get Hands-On Experience in UO Evidence Lab

By Rebecca E. Neely

The University of Oklahoma College of Law is offering, courtesy of Professor Mary Sue Backus, hands on experience to both third-year law students and Norman area police officers through a laboratory evidence class.

As part of the class, both the officers and students convene in a OU courtroom. There, they are able to practice direct and cross examination, within a mock trial setting.

Clayton Cotton, a third-year student, was quoted as saying:

“We hardly get a chance to question real professionals. The

most difficult part is the real-life situations we handle here are

 

a

lot stickier than what you get in textbooks. But the practice

Backus was quoted as saying in the October 19 th

is

invaluable.”

normantrsncript.com article, Evidence Course influential to law students and NPD”: “What is unique is the partnership between Norman police and the law scholars. Students

The University of Oklahoma College of Law is located in Norman, Oklahoma. An ABA-certified law school, the College

are learning how to use the rules of evidence in court and the officers are getting practice to answer questions in the

of Law was founded in 1909. U.S. News & World Report ranked the College of Law 71st among the nation’s law schools in

courtroom.”

2009.

The police officers testify, and students take turns asking questions, playing the roles of both defense and prosecution attorneys.

Backus offered suggestions not only to her students about asking questions, but to the officers, about the manner in which they provide testimony. For the students, Backus recommended asking more leading questions, asking for further explanation of officers’ background and experience, and asking for detailed explanations of procedures, thus establishing the officer as a more credible witness.

Officer Carl Pendleton was among the officers taking part in the proceedings. Backus praised the officers for being knowledgeable on the stand; however, she also suggested that they could slow down while giving testimony, and perhaps even think about explaining in more detail certain parts of procedures, in order to help the laymen.

The officers agreed the mock trial setting was beneficial for not only the students, but themselves, as they infrequently testify in court, and it gives them an opportunity to brush up on their skills and attain a comfort level.

Lt. David Teuscher was quoted as saying: “The response has been extremely positive, surprisingly so. I’ve had officers with 14, 15 years experience do this once and they’ll say, ‘I want to do this again.’ It’s informative and they’ve learned a lot from it.”

In 2004, Professor Mary Sue Backus joined the university’s law school faculty, where she teaches Criminal Law, Education Law and Evidence. Prior to this, she taught for a semester as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at William and Mary School of Law. There, she taught classes about Evidence and gave a seminar on indigent defense systems.

Backus graduated at the top of her class at William and Mary. She was selected as a member of Order of the Coif and the Order of the Barristers. She also served as Senior Notes Editor of the William and Mary Law Review, on the staff of the William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, and competed on the National Moot Court Team. She was also awarded the Margaret Thatcher Prize for Excellence in Graduate Studies, which is given by the College to the outstanding graduate student, as well as the Lawrence W. I’Anson Award, which is given by the law faculty.

Following her clerkship to the Honorable H. Emory Widener on the United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, she joined the Washington, D.C. firm of Covington and Burling. There, she was responsible for handling a variety of product liability litigation and regulatory matters. She also provided pro bono assistance on custody and education matters and systemic reform of indigent defense systems, according to information at UO’s website.

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