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

The 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.  The program was created to help students acquire a working knowledge of our judicial system, develop analytical abilities and communication skills, and gain an understanding of their obligations and responsibilities as participating members of our society. Currently, the program is available in 36 of the 58 counties in California.

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 2017, 28 high school teams competed in the San Diego County High School Mock Trial Competition, involving almost six hundred high school students.  Students 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 & 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. 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 eighty attorney coaches volunteered during the 2016-2017 San Diego County Competition.

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.  Over two hundred attorneys volunteered to serve as scorers during the 2016-2017 San Diego County Competition. 

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 2016-2017 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 this Program and Competition has a demonstrated effect on increasing the civic literacy of all students and provides the local legal community with an enhanced pool of potential jurors as well as possible future attorneys and judges.             
 

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.  The 2017 President of the San Diego County Bar Association competed on his high school mock trial team during his years in school. 

High School Student Team

Teams of students prepare and present the mock trial from the perspectives of both the prosecution and the defense. Team members play different roles, including trial attorneys, pre-trial motion attorneys, witnesses, clerks, and bailiffs. Some schools may offer the Program as a class or school club activity, while others offer it as a voluntary activity.  The San Diego County High School Mock Trial Competition offers four rounds of trials, so that each school team competes twice as the prosecution and twice as the defense. 

Each competing high school team must have the following:

  • 8 to 25 students (from the same high school)
  • 1 pre-trial attorney for the defense / one pre-trial attorney for the prosecution.  Pre-trial attorneys cannot participate as trial attorneys during the same trial, but can participate as witnesses.
  • 3 trial attorneys for the prosecution (maximum)
  • 3 trial attorneys for the defense (maximum)
  • 4 witnesses for the prosecution
  • 4 witnesses for the defense
  • 1 clerk (participates with the prosecution team)
  • 1 bailiff (participates with the defense team)

The Teacher-Sponsor

The teacher-sponsor is the official Program contact person receiving all correspondence from the County Coordinator. The teacher-sponsor also acts as the team coordinator and is responsible for organizing meetings and transportation for students to and from the Competition. The teacher-sponsor may also coach the team in trial strategy and legal argumentation.  Each high school team must have a teacher-sponsor in order to participate in the Program and Competition.

  • 2017-2018 Teacher-Sponsor Orientation Powerpoint 

How Does a Team Get an Attorney Coach?

Although not mandatory, most mock trial teams find it useful to have attorney coaches. Attorney coaches advise the students on general trial techniques and procedures as well as on specific strategies for the case.  Attorney coaches participate on a volunteer basis and can include parents or other relatives of high school student team members.

Once a team's registration form is submitted, the San Diego County Bar Association will assist in finding an attorney coach/coaches for each high school team. The teacher-sponsor and the attorney coaches will be given contact information for each other so that they can coordinate a meeting and team practice schedule for each high school team.  It is up to the teacher-sponsor to work with and involve the attorney coach in team meetings and practices.  If the assigned attorney coach is not a good match for whatever reason, or if your school does not need assistance from an assigned attorney coach, please immediately notify the Mock Trial County Coordinator Michelle Chavez at mchavez@sdcba.org.   

How Much Does It Cost?

The San Diego County registration fee per high school team is $375.  If a team has twenty students, that amount is less than $20 per student.  Some high school teams fundraise to earn the team entry fee.  Others collect portions of the fee from team members.   Most of the fee is paid to the CRF for licensed use of the case materials.   The registration fees do not cover the increased cost of services provided during the Competition by the San Diego County High School Mock Trial Program. 

Scholarships are Available

Scholarships are available to Title I schools or schools with a lack of financial sponsorship or economic resources.  If your school would like to apply for a scholarship to pay for the $375 registration fee, please complete the "Application for Scholarship" form and submit it to the County Coordinator Michelle Chavez via e-mail at mchavez@sdcba.org or via fax at (619) 696-3987.  

Awards

At the conclusion of the Competition, awards are presented to:

  • Outstanding Pre-Trial Attorney (Prosecution)
  • Outstanding Pre-Trial Attorney (Defense)
  • Outstanding Trial Attorney (Prosecution)
  • Outstanding Trial Attorney (Defense)
  • Outstanding Witness #1, Witness #2, Witness #3, Witness #4 (Prosecution)
  • Outstanding Witness #1, Witness #2, Witness #3, Witness #4 (Defense)
  • Outstanding Bailiff 
  • Outstanding Clerk 

Past Award Winners at the State Competition include Alexander Kilman for Outstanding Pre-Trial Attorney for the Prosecution in 2014.