In Mock Trial, students learn how to present a winning argument using formats required by real trial courts.
Unlike Moot Court, which focuses on appellate action on substantive principles of law, Mock Trial requires students to develop and execute a courtroom strategy involving presentation of evidence, examination of witnesses, and case summations. Participants must carefully research and prepare cases ahead of time, as well as execute their roles in a persuasive and professional manner.
More technically, students learn how to make an opening statement, how to question and cross-examine witnesses, and how to make a closing argument.
Competitive Mock Trial
Each year, the American Mock Trial Association releases a national case to members schools. Alternating annually between criminal and civil cases, the competition packet provides a case summary along with the civil case law (usually a definition of civil negligence) or the applicable penal code for a criminal case. The materials include any special issues or stipulations agreed upon by the opposing counsel as well as relevant exhibits and affidavits, including such reports as ballistics, blood tests, photographs, police reports, witness statements, etc.
Make Up of Mock Trial Teams
A mock trial team consists of between six and a maximum of 10 members. Each team will prepare both sides of the case: prosecution and defense in a criminal trial, plaintiff and defense in a civil action. Each side is composed of three attorneys and three witnesses, all played by members of the team. Some attorneys will compete on both sides of the case; other attorneys will just do one side.
Tournaments have four trials, with each team trying the case twice as plaintiff or prosecuting team and twice as the defense team. AMTA tries to present cases that are evenly balanced. It is not uncommon for a new witness or new evidence to be a part of the cases tried after the regional tournaments have been held. This often rebalances the cases and provides a new set of challenges for students. In many cases, there is some form of a problem with the evidence itself and whether or not it will be admitted into evidence. Other times a witness may have some form of bias or perhaps has a history of lying or a perjury conviction or a falsified resume, which may be exploited by the other counsel. Teams must weigh the benefit of the evidence in light of a potential problem that opposing counsel may inflict if they are successful in impeaching the credibility of the witness. Strategy plays an important role in trying these cases and students learn over time what works (or might not work) and they may alter trial strategies as the regional tournament nears. Students must be very familiar with the many available objections, in particular, those involving the complex hearsay rules and exceptions.
In the fall, teams participate in invitational competitions all over the country in order to practice for the main season, which begins in February with regional tournaments. Teams that finish in the top third advance to what is now called the Opening Championship Round (OCR). The top teams for the OCR advance to the National Tournament. Approximately 1000 teams compete during the year preparing for the regional qualifiers with about 600 teams entering regional tournaments. The goal of participating in invitational is to prepare the team to present a winning case when it counts in the AMTA tournaments.