Trials of the Centuries

From the 1692 Witch Trials to the present, America has witnessed many high-profile trials in which the ideal of justice has clashed with the realities and imperfections of the legal system. These cases which captured headlines, stirred arguments and often turned into public spectacles are sometimes compared to the Salem Witch Trials - at least by the defense attorneys.

Divide the class into groups. Each group will research one of the controversial trials listed at the bottom of this page. The students' research will focus on identifying similarities and differences between their assigned trials and the Salem Witch Trials. For their research, the students may want to consider the following guidelines:

  • look for outside influences

  • consider the psychological/emotional climate of the times

  • evaluate media influences

  • investigate the conduct, impartiality, and conduct of the judge

  • assess the skill and strategies of the defense and prosecution

  • consider the make-up and role of the jury


Court Martial of Benedict Arnold

Chicago "Black" Sox Scandal

Scopes "Monkey" Trial

Trial of the Scottsboro Boys

Lindbergh Kidnapping Case

Any currently controversial trial

Rosenbergs' Trial

Sacco and Vanzetti Trial

Trial of Sam Sheppard

The Chicago Seven

O.J. Simpson

The McCarthy Hearings

The research could be expanded to include controversial trails from World History:

The Dreyfus Case

Martin Luther

Joan of Arc




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