Mock Trial Program

Our Mission

The mission of the San Diego County High School Mock Trial Program is to foster understanding and respect for the American legal system and for the rule of law. The Program seeks to develop high school students into better citizens by familiarizing them with our Constitution and Bill of Rights through academic competition enhancing students’ ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and work as a team as well as with other members of society.

 Watch the 2014 video to learn more about the Mock Trial Program.
(Double click the video window to enlarge.  8 minutes.) 
 

The Mock Trial Program

In 1980, the Constitutional Rights Foundation (CRF) introduced the Mock Trial Program to all counties in California.  CRF originated the Mock Trial Program in Los Angeles County, and where it developed a strong following before expanding state-wide.  San Diego County has been a participant since 2007.  Last year, 34 of California's 58 counties participated.

The Case

Each year, CRF creates and produces a new set of mock trial materials based on a hypothetical criminal case including summaries of case law, witness statements, official exhibits, and simplified rules of evidence; and competition rules and guidelines.

High School Students

With the assistance of a teacher-sponsor and attorney coaches, CRF’s Mock Trial Program engages over 8,000 student-participants across the state of California. In 2018, 29 high school teams competed in the San Diego County High School Mock Trial Competition, involving almost six hundred high school students.  Students in grades 9-12 actively experience the excitement of working in teams, exchanging ideas, setting goals, and examining issues while interacting with positive role models from their community. By studying the case and preparing strategies and arguments for trial, students also develop presentation skills, analytic abilities, and team work.

  

Judge and Attorney Volunteers

Each year thousands of members from California’s bar and bench volunteer their time to make the CRF Program an educational and exciting experience for students. San Diego County has enjoyed extraordinary volunteerism from local attorneys and State and Federal judicial officers.  Attorneys serve in  roles such as team coaches or attorney scorers during the competition.  Judges, Magistrates, and Commissioners from the State and Federal Courts preside over the mock trials and rule on pre-trial motions, trial objections, and render the final verdict.

Attorney Coach Volunteers

Attorney coaches voluntarily work with each participating high school team. Coaches advise the students on general trial techniques and procedures and on specific strategies for presenting the case. Time commitments are worked out between the team and the attorney volunteer coaches, but generally require meeting at least once a week, especially in the month prior to the competition.  Coaching a team requires a greater commitment of time than scoring, but most coaches report a deep sense of fulfillment as a result of their efforts.  Over sixty attorney coaches volunteered during the 2017-2018 San Diego County Competition.   To volunteer as an Attorney Coach for this year's Mock Trial Competition, all new and returning attorney coaches must complete the Attorney Coach Volunteer Form by clicking here 

Attorney Scorers

As a scorer, volunteer attorneys sit in the jury box and evaluate the students' presentations, while the student teams present their case to a State or Federal Judge, Magistrate, or Commissioner.  Attorney scorers are given a set of criteria for rating the teams numerically based on CRF rules.  The criteria include the quality of the students’ presentations, their grasp of the law and court procedures, and their understanding of the case itself.  The time commitment for attorney scorers is approximately two hours per trial, in addition to the time necessary to review the case and program materials prior to the competition.  Volunteer attorneys may score as many trials as they choose.  One hundred ninety attorneys volunteered to serve as scorers during the 2017-2018 San Diego County Competition. 

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Judicial Presiders

State and Federal Judges, Magistrates, and Commissioners offer their expertise by presiding over a mock trial. The time commitment for judicial presiders is approximately two hours per trial, in addition to the time necessary to review the case and program materials prior to the competition.  Judicial officers may preside over as many trials as they would like.  The trials usually involve a pre-trial motion and a set of abbreviated rules of evidence. The judicial presider’s role is to keep the trial moving and to rule on pre-trial motions, trial objections, and to render a final verdict in the case. Presiders do not score the student presentations. Volunteering as a presider is a great way for judicial officers to educate high school students about our courts and legal system.  More than fifty five local judicial officers volunteered during the 2017-2018 San Diego County Competition.  

State Standards / Common Core

The San Diego County High School Mock Trial Program allows students to develop the skills necessary for the mastery of state standards for history, social science, and language arts. Through performance-based education, the program furthers an understanding of both the content and processes of our legal system, increases basic skills, analytical abilities, and self-confidence, and it promotes cooperation among students of various cultures and interests. Based on responses to formal surveys, teacher-sponsors report significant improvement in students’ basic skills, critical thinking skills, presentation skills, class participation, and self-esteem, as well as increases in students’ content knowledge about the law.

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts connect to civic learning in that they require careful reading of informational texts (such as the U.S. Constitution), critical thinking, analytical skills, digital media literacy, and developing and communicating arguments based on evidence.  The  San Diego County High  School Mock Trial Program also emphasizes the application of knowledge and skills in a real-life setting - students present mock trials in actual courtrooms in the downtown courthouse.

In August 2014, the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning delivered its report and recommendations to the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court and State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  The goal is "to ensure that all California students gain the civic knowledge, skills, and values they need to succeed in college, career, and civic life."  They note "[t]he chief benefits of civic learning are a vibrant and informed civic life and democracy and a healthy society.  High-quality civic learning also helps teach children skills they need for the 21st Century workplace, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, initiative, and innovation.  In addition, civic learning done right engages students by making what they learn at school more relevant to real life.  It promotes academic achievement as well, and prevents some students from dropping out."

Engaging in mock trial is a recommended activity for students, teachers, attorneys, and judges.  (See pages 45-46, "Revitalizing K-12 Civic Learning in California," 2014 by the California Bar Foundation.)  For more information, visit: http://www.powerofdemocracy.org/.

The San Diego County High School Mock Trial Competition is unique in that only actual judges from the local State and Federal courts preside over the trials presented by the high school students.  Additionally, actual attorneys volunteer to coach the teams and serve as scorers during the Competition. Participation in the Mock Trial Program and Competition has a demonstrated effect on increasing the civic literacy of all students.  We also hope it provides our community with an informed population of potential jurors and students who will seek to work or volunteer in the legal field.              
 

Testimonials

Former  mock trial students have gone on to join the legal profession as attorneys and judges.  Several local attorney coaches previously competed as high school students.  We are proud of the fact that recently appointed Superior Court Judge Loren Freestone, who also served as the 2017 San Diego County Bar Association President, competed in mock trial in his high school years and credits his experience as being the impetus for pursuing a legal career. 

 
To see what students participating in the 2017-2018 competition year reported about their mock trial experience, click here.