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. pre-trial 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 point 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 pre-trial 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 objections. 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.

Some teams hold scrimmages before the actual competition with other competing schools which they arrange on their own. That is a good way to gauge the strength and weaknesses of your team.   Please do not select other judges/attorneys for the scrimmages unless they are made aware that 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.

2020 Competition Questions

We’ve just received the score from the last round and are surprised by the score for the pre-trial attorney in light of the positive comments during the feedback session. Could you please verify the score?

We do not disseminate scores until they have been double-checked. All scores being released are accurate. Please remember that the starting point for scoring is a 5 (when employing a 1-10 scale). In your case, we did verify the score after receiving your question and the score was accurate.

We just received our “raw scores” from the first round. How were they calculated?

After each of the first three rounds, the Mock Trial Committee provides your raw scores to assist you in working with your students to prepare for future rounds. These scores are the sum of the points awarded by each scorer (e.g. if one scorer gave 6 points, another gave 5 and another 7, the total raw score would be 18). Thus, to get a sense if the raw score is relatively high or low, you can compare it to the total number of possible points. As an example, if a witness received a raw score of 21 and there were three scorers, the total possible points would be 30 (3 x 10 points, 10 being the highest score that could be awarded on a 1-10 scale). The coach and teacher can then evaluate if they want to work with that student to adjust their performance. When reviewing the scores, please remember that while most roles are evaluated on a 1-10 scale, the clerk and bailiff are evaluated on a 1-5 scale. Also, the raw number of points is doubled for the Pretrial Motion and the Closing Arguments. You are urged to review the Scoring Criteria provided in your materials to assist in your assessment of your students’ performances.

I understand that no pictures taken inside the courtroom can be posted online. If students take pictures of themselves and teammates outside the courthouse or in the Juror Lounge while waiting to be sent to a courtroom, may they post those online?

You are correct that photos taken in the courtroom during the competition may not be posted online. Recording in the courtroom is permitted with the consent of the opposing team and for educational purposes only. The San Diego County Mock Trial Program does not control what students, parents, coaches or teachers do privately with photos taken in other parts of the court or outside of the courthouse, however, before a school or student posts a mock trial photo they must insure that they have the permission of all students captured in the photo. The majority of our student participants are minors and the Committee is very protective of their privacy, which is why we require permission slips signed by parents (or students, if they are over 18 ) before the Mock Trial Committee and its member agencies, organizations and courts use any images of our student participants. The taking of photos by students, teachers, or coaches should not be disruptive to the orientation presentation, movement to and from the courtrooms or during any part of the mock trial program.

Is there a rule against Bailiffs using a real police uniform shirt?

Rule 1.3 (O) which states: “Props, costumes, and theatrical makeup are prohibited. Costuming includes hairstyles, clothing accessories that are specific to a role in the case.

Is there an minimum age limit for spectators?

The audience must not in any way distract the participants, therefore it would not be appropriate to bring children, particularly those under the age of 12, who may not be able to watch quietly for at least 80 minutes. Please note as well, there is limited seating in the courtrooms, and repeated arrivals and departures during the actual mock trial are not encouraged. If a child were to make noise or be disruptive, they and the accompanying parent would be required to leave immediately. 

Can you please direct us where we can find in the materials the standard of proof that our students should be arguing for/against?

The materials do not expressly state the burden of proof that applies during the pretrial motion or the trial, however the Legal Authorities and Pretrial Materials section (pages 12-16) specifically reference the United States Constitution, the California Penal Code, and the California Criminal Jury Instructions, and it is assumed that the venue for the mock trial is criminal court in California. For purposes of the trial, you may rely on the burden of proof which applies in all criminal trials, i.e. proof beyond a reasonable doubt. For purposes of the pretrial motion, the Fourth Amendment is referenced and search issues are set forth in the summary of the pretrial arguments on Page 13. The various cases cited in the materials provide the law to be applied in determining whether the search was reasonable and whether the exception to the warrant requirement, i.e. consent, was given. In California, the standard of proof at a hearing regarding a motion to suppress evidence is preponderance of the evidence.

During a scrimmage, a rule violation was raised by the pretrial defense attorney that the prosecution was in violation of Rule 3.7.B, because the prosecution pretrial attorney used the four minute statement not only as a presentation of cases and facts standing alone but also to address or rebut the defense’s position. Could you address whether the prosecution, during its four minute statement, may address statements or arguments made by the defense in their four minute statement?

It is natural that during the pretrial arguments, attorneys raise points favorable to their legal and factual position and distinguish case law that is not supportive of their side. In the context of this year’s case, it is appropriate for either side during their four minute statement to make legal arguments and cite facts from the record which support why the search was lawful or unlawful (depending on the side) and to distinguish or interpret case law in the materials, including arguments made by (or anticipated to be made by) opposing counsel.

This standard practice is not contravened by anything in the mock trial rules, including the language from Rule 3.7.B that ”each attorney arguing a pretrial motion has four minutes to present a statement and two minutes for rebuttal.” That said, the first four minute argument should not be styled or phrased as a rebuttal, but either side can anticipate arguments as long as they phrase it that way: e.g. “the defense may try to argue X, but in fact Y is the case because…” Both sides should be cautious not to fill their four minute statement with anticipatory comments rebutting the other side’s arguments, but an occasional anticipatory argument or response to opposing argument is fine. Traditionally, a rebuttal argument is limited to rebutting the evidence and arguments raised by the opposing side and may not be used to raise new evidence or arguments. The converse is not true, however. It is not procedurally improper for a party to anticipate or respond to the other side’s argument in the first four minute statement.

Participants should be familiar with the evaluation criteria, which include, inter alia: “a clear and concise presentation of issues and appropriate use of case materials”; “well-developed, reasoned, and organized arguments”; and “effective rebuttal of countered opponent’s argument.”

We have more than 25 students at my high school interested in participating in mock trial and our school will have enough students to field two teams. If we are interested in presenting a second team, should we register two teams by the deadline of October 4th?

No, you should not register two teams. Follow all of the instructions to register one team on or before October 4, 2019. Send us an email at letting us know your school is interested in offering a second team. After October 4th, you will receive additional instruction to have your school be eligible to offer a second team, if SDCHSMT resources will permit.

Shouldn’t a witness be able to testify to what they would reasonably know from the fact situation?

A witness can only testify from their own witness statement and any portion of the fact situation, stipulations, and exhibits of which that witness would reasonably have knowledge.

Can evidence be mounted on foam board?

Yes, evidence may be mounted on foam board or card stock.