Doctor DeSoto vs. The Fox

       Adapted from the New York State Unified Court System’s Educational Tools. The original was developed with the assistance of Linda Skidmore, Teacher, LEAD Program, Northport-East Northport School District and Hon. Richard Lee Price, Judge of the New York City Civil Court and Acting Supreme Court Justice.

3rd , 4th and 5th Grades 

Doctor DeSoto     READ ALOUD Doctor DeSoto by William Steig, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

      After reading, discuss the part of the story where Doctor DeSoto insists that he will finish the job that he has started – a rule that his father taught him. Ask students to discuss rules that they have learned from their families or friends and to provide examples of when they have followed those rules.

      Explain that every community has rules by which its people must live. These rules are called laws. Some laws are made by the community, some by the county, some by the state, and some by the federal government.

      All of the people in a community must live according to its laws, but laws are not necessarily the same in all communities. You must know the laws in your own community and obey them. There are laws that protect you and your property. There are laws for your protection when driving a car. There are also laws that protect public property -- parks, schools, libraries, and other property owned by the community.

      Some laws that you will find in every community are listed below:

-Do not hurt other people.

-Do not damage things that belong to other people.

-Do not take things that belong to other people.

-Do not damage things that are public property.

-Do not take things that are public property.

-Do not go into places that belong to other people without their permission.

-Do not drive faster than the speed limit permits.

      Tell students to imagine that the story has a new ending:

      The Fox was very angry that Doctor DeSoto and his wife tricked him into not eating the DeSotos. One night, when the DeSotos were having a dinner party, someone threw two huge rocks through their dining room window, breaking the window.

      Mrs. DeSoto ran to the window and is certain that she saw the Fox standing behind a tree on the front lawn. She recognized the green jacket that the Fox had worn to the dentist’s office.

      Doctor DeSoto called the police and reported that rocks were thrown into their home at about 7 p.m. The police arrested the Fox later that night. They charged the Fox with vandalism – the destruction of somebody else’s property.

      The Fox says he was in his own home with his friend, the Cow, at the time of the window breaking incident. The Cow agrees that he was with the Fox.

      Discuss the fact that it is morally wrong to damage someone else’s property, such as by throwing rocks through a window. Explain that the laws of the West Virginia make such acts of vandalism illegal.

      Explain that trials are the method we use to determine whether someone has done something that is illegal or is improper according to our laws. There are criminal trials and civil trials.

      When the police arrest someone for committing an illegal act, a criminal trial occurs. The result may be that the person arrested serves a sentence in prison.

      When a citizen sues another citizen and no arrests are involved, a civil trial occurs. The result may be that the person who is sued must pay an amount of money to or give something to the person who filed the lawsuit.

      Using the DeSoto example, a criminal trial could occur because the police arrested the Fox and charged him with a crime, vandalism. However, a civil trial could also occur if the DeSotos decided to sue the Fox to make him pay for the damage that they think he caused to their window.

      If there is a criminal trial, the prosecution must provide evidence that the Fox is the one who threw the rocks. The prosecution will ask Mrs. DeSoto to testify that she saw the Fox outside of her home when the rocks were thrown. The defense will provide evidence that the Fox was not the one who threw the rocks.

      The defense attorney wants to create "reasonable doubt" in the minds of the jury, meaning that at least some of the jury members will think that the Fox did not throw the rocks. To prove this point, the defense will ask the Cow to testify that the Fox was home when the rocks were thrown.

      The jury system virtually ensures that each citizen has a chance to play an important part in the justice process at least once during his or her life. The jury system helps promote justice, fairness, and equality. It helps preserve the very important principle that defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

Terms students may not know:

JUDGE – The head of the court, decides issues of law, and ensures that justice is carried out in the courtroom.

EVIDENCE – The facts about a case that are discussed during the trial.

DEFENDANT – In a criminal trial, the person arrested and charged with a crime.

PROSECUTOR – Represents the interests of all of the People of the State of West Virginia through their government. Attempts to prove beyond a "reasonable doubt" that the defendant is guilty of the crime. This means that the prosecutor must provide enough evidence to show that the person arrested actually committed the crime.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY – Represents the rights of the defendant. Attempts to show through evidence at trial that the defendant is not guilty. Every criminal defendant is entitled to a defense attorney to show that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

WITNESSES – Assist lawyers by testifying and providing evidence about the case.  The information is used by the jury to determine whether the defendant is guilty.

JURY – Several people selected by the attorneys to decide issues of fact. They must pay close attention to the evidence presented by both sides and decide on a verdict, which is the decision of whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

DELIBERATION – The clerk takes the jury to the jury room, where they discuss the case and decide whether the defendant is guilty.

VERDICT – The jury foreman reads the verdict to the judge to announce the decision of the jury.

SENTENCING – If the defendant is found guilty, the judge will pronounce the sentence.