Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What is the best way to form a successful Mock Trial Team?

The key to forming a successful team is providing a positive, academic-oriented experience for participating students. Participation in Mock Trial should be an experience that allows students to cultivate their appreciation of the justice system, while recognizing the personal responsibilities of citizenship.

Each team must have a minimum of eight students and must not exceed twenty-five participants. The team may be composed of any students currently eligible for high school-sponsored extra-curricular activities.

Another key to success is gathering eager and committed team members. An ability to work well with others is key. Participation in Mock Trial requires a significant commitment from students, Teacher Sponsors, and Attorney Coaches. The hours can be long, but the experience is always stimulating. Students bond deeply, support each other, and become loyal friends. 

Is there a simple recipe for a successful team?

Yes.  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.

Practices should be scheduled at a time that is convenient for students, Teacher Sponsors, and Attorney Coaches. The length of each practice is up to you. It primarily depends on the attention span of the students and the schedules of the parties involved. Two hours weekly is the minimum recommended practice time. The number of meetings per week depends purely on how effective and efficient your team is during each practice. Most teams practice 5 to 10 hours per week, and have separate practices for trial v. pretrial attorneys.

Teams that do not meet as regular classes will have to choose between afternoon, evening, and weekend practice schedules. Having a regular time frame enables the best planning for all and may allow mock trial students to also participate in athletics or music programs.  Most importantly, make it fun!

Do videos exist to assist students to prepare?

The Constitutional Rights Foundation has created a series of videos to assist students in preparing for the Mock Trial Competition.  Video topics include preparing a team for mock trial, team orientation, and the role of the clerk and bailiff. Specific subject areas are also discussed, including hearsay, objections, relevance, and many other topics. You may look for these helpful videos and other materials on the resource page.

How Do I Dress for Success in the Mock Trial Competition?

Students are asked to wear courtroom appropriate attire. However, no student is required to purchase any specific attire in order to participate.

Some students select clothing they already have (such as a shirt, tie, blazer or jacket, dress, skirt or pantsuit), or they borrow such clothing from others (friends, relatives or other team supporters).

Some teams fundraise to purchase their selected courtroom attire while other teams request assistance from local legal and paralegal groups to assist them in acquiring select wardrobe items (gathered from closet clean-outs by local professionals or otherwise).

Past participant surveys have shown that the students enjoy dressing and looking the part, be it as attorneys, witnesses or other roles. Provided that clothing otherwise comports with courthouse rules, students are free to select their own style of attire. As an example, some teams have chosen to wear matching color-coordinated attire. However, this is not required nor encouraged. No clothing should identify any particular school as school identities are withheld from scorers and judges.  

There should be no required type of outfit by a team which might prevent any student’s participation. Participating in mock trial is not like serving as a bridesmaid in a wedding – no one should be required to purchase an outfit they are likely to never wear again!

New Attorney Coaches and/or Teacher Sponsors should discuss wardrobe questions with veteran Attorney Coaches or Teacher Sponsors as soon as possible. 

To date, no team or student has been unable to solve their wardrobe concerns in advance of the competition (with or without assistance from the program). Remember – the program is run by volunteers, and there is no wardrobe fund or stipend available.

Any suggestions on how practices should run?

It is best to identify the role each person will portray early on, so as not to create confusion. It will also help practices run smoothly. If a role does not fit a student, be willing to make changes and adjustments for the benefit of the team. Trial attorneys should decide who will be making the opening and closing arguments and which witnesses they will be questioning.  Trial attorneys need to be as familiar with their witnesses’ testimony as the witness is.  This is not to say that they only need to be familiar with their own witness. Each trial attorney must understand the testimony of all of the witnesses.  Have the trial attorneys look at their witness testimony from both the prosecution and defense points of view.  This will help them be able to counter possible opposition strategies and be on the lookout for obstacles. It is also helpful to have the witnesses look at their statements from an attorney’s point of view. They will know their role best, and thus are the most qualified to help the trial attorneys in preparing their testimony.

During some of the practice times, have the prosecution and defense teams practice separately, rehearsing the questioning of witnesses and the delivery of opening statements and closing arguments.

It is a good idea to have both prosecution and defense pretrial attorneys meet to discuss possible arguments for each side and to practice rebuttals. They must know the relevant case law – flash cards work well. Prepare for the exclusion of evidence, no matter how small the probability. Being caught without a backup plan can be devastating to the overall performance of the team.  Have students ready in understudy roles for unexpected illnesses or last minute unavailability.

During joint practices, conduct a complete mock trial. This will give both the prosecution and defense a chance to practice objections. Practice is the only way students will become proficient in objecting and countering objecting. Have the trial attorneys make objections to questions, even if trivial. Often the attorneys will be able to get around objections either by re-wording the question or by argument (particularly to the hearsay rule). Students should also watch the opposition to observe possible strategies. Make sure to allow time for the prosecution to make comments on the strategy of the defense and vice-versa.  Make sure the students know and understand the applicable rules of evidence that apply during the Competition.

It is important to time each practice.  Leave a buffer for unexpected delays or redirects at the trial.  The student trial attorneys shouldn’t have to ask for the time remaining during the trial.  They need to have a general sense of how long each witness’ testimony takes.  They also need to be able to know when to raise objections to the other team’s timing, should there be a significant discrepancy.

A good way to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of your team is to arrange scrimmage trials with other competing schools. Please do not select other judges/attorneys for scrimmages unless they are made aware they will not be able to serve as judges/attorney scorers during the actual competition.

During the actual competition, it is also helpful to hold a debriefing the day after your team competes to discuss what went well and what the team can improve upon before the next round.   Read and understand the scoring criteria and applicable rules of evidence.  The goal is not to repeatedly object to the presentation of the other team, but to use objections only when necessary.  The focus should be on presenting the case to the fact-finder, the presiding judicial officer, who will render the final verdict.

2022 Competition Questions

Are students required to play the same role throughout the competition? Can they be a witness in one round and take on the role of attorneys in another?

Yes, students who are attorneys in one round may play witnesses in others.  Students may take on different roles in each round.  They are not confined to one role for the duration of the competition.

Does each team have only one trial each round, or would we be required to take on both the prosecution and defense in one round at the same time? Is it permissible to have one student take on the pretrial role for both prosecution and defense?

Your team will take on the role of prosecution for two rounds and the defense roll for the other two.  Those assignments will be provided by the Mock Trial Committee shortly before each round.  You can assume that if you took on the role of prosecution in Round One that your team will have the defense role in Round Two.  You will never have to perform them simultaneously.  Yes, one student may take on the role of pretrial attorney for both the prosecution and defense.

We seek clarification/confirmation on team composition. Can one student play the role of two witnesses in the same trial?

Not without incurring a penalty.  Rule 2.2 B states that at each trial, a team must have a minimum of 8 active members composed of registered team members only.  That rule also provides a chart stating that 4 students serve in the role as witnesses.  Rule 2.2D states that if any section on Rule 2.2A to C. has been violated, scorers must deduct five points from the team’s participation score.

Can the pretrial attorney also serve as the bailiff in the same round?

No, the pretrial attorney cannot serve as the bailiff in the same round, nor can anyone taking on any other role also act as the bailiff, due to the bailiff’s ongoing responsibilities during the trial.  Please see Rule 2.2B which requires a minimum number of 8 active team members in each round and the chart contained within the rule.

May an attorney serve as a coach to more than one team?

No. It would create a conflict of interest if an attorney served as a coach to more than one team.  If there is a team that needs an additional coach or coaches, please let the Mock Trial Committee know, so that we may seeking coaching assistance for them.

Our team has one student who will be graduating early and prior to the start of the competition. May that student compete?

No. Rule 2.1 requires that “all team members…must be registered at their official school for which they are competing.”  The Committee consulted CRF who confirmed that a student must be currently enrolled at their school during their participation in the competition.

Is the defense required to offer as its theory of defense that the facts do not support either crime charged (murder or manslaughter) or must it also argue the alternative theory that defendant’s actions were provoked by the victim, therefore arguing that if convicted of anything, the defendant should only be convicted of the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter?

The final case materials provided by CRF outline what both prosecution and defense are expected to argue at trial.  See pages 13-14, in the Statement of Charges section of CRF Official Materials (final version issued 1/10/22).  The defense is directed to argue: “(1) the defendant did not place the rattlesnake in the mailbox, (2) the defendant had no intent to murder, and (3) even if the court finds the defendant put the rattlesnake in the mailbox, the act was committed under the heat of passion and in response to adequate provocation, so therefore only guilty of voluntary manslaughter.” Page 14 of the materials further explains what the defense should argue.

May we include preferred pronouns for each student on the Trial Team Roster?

Yes, you may include preferred pronouns for each student on the Trial Team Roster.

May we bring alternates with us to the courthouse for the competition rounds?

No, you may not.  The only students permitted in the courthouse and courtroom are those performing in that round.

Has the errata been incorporated into the text of the case materials provided to judges and attorney-scorers? Or are they being provided with a separate document that sets forth the errata?

Judges and Scorers have been supplied the final version of the case materials issued by CRF on January 10, 2022, which incorporates previously issued errata.

May the students use a laser pointer during examination?

No they may not.  Rule 3.2 notes: “Illustrative aids of any kind are prohibited, including but not limited to the use of electronic or light projected aids.”

We understand that all participants will be required to wear masks when they are in the courthouse and in the courtroom. Will witnesses and/or attorneys be permitted to remove them during presentation? May participants wear see-through masks?

Students will NOT be permitted to remove masks during presentation.   Participants may wear any mask which completely covers the nose and mouth, including those which are clear, as long as they prevent projection of droplets, sprays and particles which could carry virus.  The Committee will have masks available, should a participant lose their mask, or their mask is inadequate to protect the wearer and others.

May the students move about the well during examinations and speeches? May students walk behind counsel table while making opening statement and closing argument?

Students may not move into the well during opening statement and closing argument.  They may walk behind counsel table while doing so, although that may not be advisable and they are encouraged to remain close to the podium (in between counsel table) because the microphone will be atop the podium.  The microphone can be held but that may be difficult to do.  All student attorneys are reminded of Rule 1.3 which provides that the mock trial is a bench trial and “Participants shall direct all presentations to the judge.”

Should trial attorneys wish to present an exhibit to a witness, they may of course do so, after asking the court’s permission.  For example, they may ask “Your Honor, may I approach the witness?”

The unofficial timer usually sits next to the clerk. Since we are asking students to be at a distance from each other, where shall the unofficial timer sit?

So that they may confer, the timers do need to sit near each other.  The clerk’s desk in the courtroom is designed to accommodate two people with some distance between them.  The courtroom monitor will direct both timers to the area of the clerk’s desk.

Our team has 4 attorneys each side and 2 witnesses for some roles, so we’re having some students compete one round and others compete another round. How should we fill out the award nomination form so everyone can be represented?

You must fill out an award nomination form for each round and bring five copies of the form which will list the students performing during that round.

Will the courtroom monitor provide judge’s name for the bailiff announcement “All rise…”

Yes.

Before and during the pretrial argument, should it be just the single pretrial attorney at counsel table?

Yes.  It will be the pretrial attorneys that are arguing the case that will be seated at counsel table first.

Since we have already acknowledged that the judging is subjective, why doesn’t the Committee provide the scores for both teams after a particular round to coaches, so we know how they did relative to the other students against whom they competed?

This has been a reoccurring question for a number of years.  The Committee feels strongly that the focus should be on your own students, and scores are provided after a round so that coaches and teachers can work with the student on improving performance.  We respect the fact that some coaches choose not to let their students know how they did numerically, and release of that information to persons other than an individual team’s coach or teacher would interfere with that strategy and be inconsistent with the focus on the individual student.

We have a very small team and are worried that if a member is absent due to COVID we may not have the requisite number of 8 students for each round. Will we be required to forfeit any round where we do not have 8 students?

The Committee is mindful that COVID is still present in our community and may cause some unanticipated absences.  For teams that are larger in number (more than 13), it is expected that you will have students prepared to substitute in to different roles.  COVID-related issues will be handled on a case-by-case basis.  Please notify the committee immediately by emailing us at sdmocktrial@gmail.com if a student will be absent due to COVID and you do not have a substitute.

What is the process for getting the team rosters to the scorers?

The coach or teacher should bring five copies of the team rosters and award forms to the courtroom.  The courtroom monitor will receive them from the coach or teacher, and will then hand them to the judge and the scorers when they arrive that evening.

May a witness approach an exhibit and get out of the witness chair?

Yes, they may. However, time will not be stopped if witnesses are asked to approach a diagram.  See Rule 3.8 (H).

Is a teacher required to be in attendance for each team at each round of the competition? I have a conflict with one of the days.

The rules do not require a teacher to be present at each round.  They do require that a teacher or a coach be present with the team at each round.

When is the clerk supposed to pause timing and to resume timing during the pretrial argument?

Rule 3.8G’s direction to stop time when a “Judge questions attorneys and witnesses” does include the time that the attorney or witness uses to directly respond to the judge’s question. Thus, it would be proper for a time keeper to stop the clock when a judge asks a question and the attorney answers during the pretrial argument.  That interpretation makes sense because otherwise a judge could consume all of an attorney’s time in making a pretrial argument or questioning a witness and derail the presentation of their case.