On December 5, 2016, Haas travelled to Texas County, where he tried a case with Parke Stevens Jr., 2013 UMKC Law alumnus and prosecuting attorney for the area, in a case involving inmate on inmate violence.
Throughout the year, Stevens offers to let Professor S. Rafe Foreman’s students try cases. Haas jumped at the opportunity and was allowed to lead the case, completing voir dire, the opening and closing arguments, and the direct and cross examinations. It was Haas’ first trial as a law student, and he ran the show, save for the procedural aspects and initial preparation, which Stevens took care of for the trial.
“The UMKC trial advocacy program well prepares students for trial much faster and quicker than other law schools,” Stevens said. “That is evidenced by a 3L law student taking this case to trial from beginning to end.”
Stevens was engaged in the advocacy program during his time at UMKC Law and can see the difference the impact of voir dire makes on students.
“This is the same thing UMKC did for me,” Stevens said. “UMKC prepares you to do voir dire, as opposed to other schools out there.”
The case involved two inmates from the South Central Correctional Center, a level five, max-security prison in Licking, Mo. The defendant, Dorian Perry, was caught on tape attacking another inmate, Carl Johnson.
The defense was the Public Defender’s Office, and the senior attorney, Brandon Swartz, was also a 2013 alumnus of UMKC Law. He and one of the Public Defender’s Office’s new hires handled the case. The defense’s theory was that the attack was self-defense after Johnson had provoked Perry through threats and a physical altercation.
Haas said it came down to reviewing the surveillance tape, which showed Perry attacking Johnson from behind. Haas and Stevens obtained the guilty verdict they sought, and Haas won his first case.
Professor Foreman counseled Haas throughout the duration of the case, advising on the jury selection and making the right decisions as the case evolved.
Haas said one of the most valuable aspects of the case was the ability to speak to the jury after the case closed. He received immediate feedback about his abilities and what he could improve upon.
Haas valued seeing how real trials and mock trials differed. “I noticed how much of an advocacy tool voir dire can be,” Haas said. “Foreman knows this, and voir dire is his passion. He created the Show Me Challenge. But even then, competitions and mock trials don’t show what you can accomplish with voir dire in a real trial.”
Four years ago, Foreman and Associate Professor Michaelle Tobin created the only voir dire competition in the nation, called the Show Me Challenge. The competition is a three-day event that encourages students to gain the knowledge and experience in an often under-taught element of trial practice.
Haas explained that voir dire felt like an easy conversation with the jurors. Voir dire is the process by which attorneys select certain jurors to hear a case. The attorney (in this case, Haas,) is given the opportunity to question jurors about their backgrounds and potential biases before they are chosen to sit on the jury. Haas also had to argue a batson challenge, which refers to the Supreme Court ruling that said prosecutors must have a race-neutral reason for striking a minority juror. In voir dire, the attorney has four cause strikes, but you are also given limited preemptory strikes. Since Haas struck one of their alternates, an African American woman, he had to articulate a race-neutral reason for striking her as a juror.
Haas saw voir dire as an opportunity to set up issues that would later be brought up in the case. Even in his closing arguments, Haas referred to the discussions held in voir dire and noted those conversations could help lead the jurors in developing their verdicts.
Between competitions, the Master of Advocacy course that allows students to work directly with the professor on real cases, and opportunities like the ones Parke Stevens provides, UMKC Law is focused on graduating trial-ready attorneys.