Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 3(5) (1995) 127-128
This is a review of two CD-ROM packages that are designed for use by criminal justice students. To simplify this review I will discuss the general format of both packages and then describe the underlying scenarios in more detail. I will then evaluate both CDs in terms of their aesthetic qualities and pedagogical utility and assign an overall rating to each.
Murder One and Drug Bust are CD-ROM packages composed of interactive scenarios that place the student/user in the position of an assistant district attorney. The user is responsible for interviewing witnesses, gathering evidence, applying for search warrants and building a case against a murder suspect and a drug dealer. Time constraints are utilized in both to force the user to advance the investigation in the most parsimonious fashion. This forces one to choose among various lines of questioning with a simple point and click interface. This format allows the user to guide the questioning within certain parameters and to gather evidence. Inappropriate or poorly timed questions can quickly lead to overlooking key evidence, the generation of useless information, and acquittals (I know-- I asked all the stupid questions two or three times).
In Murder One a successful investigation presents the user with an opportunity to indict the suspect. Indicting a suspect requires the presentation of the case to a grand jury and is an initial test of the strength of your evidence against the defendant. If an indictment is handed down the student must begin establishing a witness list and defending evidence against various pretrial motions made by the defense attorney. Drug Bust requires that you file charges against the suspect prior to trial. Both scenarios are effective at introducing students to legal questions that may arise in the course of a trial, what a prosecutor must prove to establish legal guilt, and the most efficient method for eliciting useful information from a witness. [End page 127]
The reality of taking a good case to trial and losing is also presented in both scenarios. The uncertainty of these mock trials quickly becomes clear to the student and may aid in clarifying reasons why a prosecutor or defense attorney would be willing to plea bargain (an option only available in Drug Bust). The authors construct a probability of victory based on the merits of the case presented and allows one to compare his/her performance to actual lawyers performance regardless of the verdict.
Murder One and Drug Bust are clearly not intended to maximize visual stimulation of the student. Both are black and white line drawn animation that I found pleasing after trying several cases. The graphics do not distract one from the pedagogical purpose that these scenarios are intended to serve. They are realistic enough to provide a stable background for an educational tool without losing the message in the medium.
These scenarios would be useful in a course that is attempting to introduce a student to the criminal courts or an introductory course that examines criminal courts in some fashion. The student is guided through the activities that an assistant district attorney must engage to build a case as well as an examination of various legal nuances that might derail an otherwise airtight case.
The manuals provided with both CDs offer concise instruction and advice to users and equipment specifications (For IBM: 486, NEC CD-ROM, mouse) but the support requires that the user make a toll call. This deterred me from seeking advice to eliminate glitches with the sound in both packages. Neither of the glitches was a fatal flaw but both were annoying to this reviewer.
Overall, I would recommend these CDs as supplements to classroom instruction. If a computer lab is available and it supports this platform then an instructor should consider using these tools to educate students. They emphasize relevant legal issues, evidence gathering, and interrogation skills in an enjoyable context that could reinforce classroom learning. These scenarios take approximately 40 minutes to complete so a small class size would probably be necessary to maximize use among students. Both packages rate a 3 on the gavel scale!
University at Albany, State University of New York [End page 128]