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.
2021 Competition Questions
Stipulation 6 states Remi Montoya, Lee Croddy and Zuri O Neill may testify without objection to the content of the group chat (Exhibit B) to the extent that it is included in evidence or in their testimony or what they would reasonably know from the fact situation. The other members of the group chat are unavailable to testify and their unavailability may not be questioned. Does this mean that as long as a proper foundation is laid, students should not object to the entering of this exhibit into evidence?
We have not been provided guidance by CRF regarding your inquiry. However, while the stipulation clearly permits testimony about the content of the group chat without objection, that is qualified by the phrase “to the extent it is included in evidence….” There is no express language stipulating to the admissibility of Exhibit B. If an objection is made, it will be up to the judge to decide whether this stipulation applies to admissibility.
Can the pretrial attorneys make reference to facts found in the witness statements?
The Pretrial Facts (found on page 16 of your case materials) are the only facts which are considered part of the “closed library” of sources for the pretrial arguments.
Our team was wondering how you would like us to handle identifying the defendant for the record by a specific witness (ex. the officer)? If we have understood the rules correctly, the defendant’s video will not be on for the entire trial, as such, we are wondering if our witness may simply respond with, "Lee Croddy is seated at the Defense table"?
Yes, your suggested response is appropriate for the constraints of a virtual trial.
Would it be possible to get a list of the judges scheduled for each round so that our bailiff could practice pronouncing the judges’ name.
Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to publish the list of all of the judges for each round for all of the teams, and there may be last minute substitution which would make a list inaccurate. That being said, none of the judges assigned in the first round have names which are difficult to pronounce. The judge’s name will appear when the judge enters the virtual courtroom. The bailiff may make inquiry of the courtroom monitor regarding the judge’s name prior to the judge’s entering the virtual courtroom. Also, the judge will introduce herself or himself prior to asking the bailiff to call the court to order.
We require your guidance on the communication medium that we would like to use with our students for the 60-second trial irregularities conference. Accessing a medium outside of Zoom requires significant time to enter into a conference call system. For example, a telephonic conference requires at least 15-25 seconds to dial into the conference call. This would be true also for accessing another virtual conference system (for example, Microsoft Teams). Would it be possible to allow at least a one-minute pause between the end of pretrial and trial period to allow access to the conferencing system for the team. Alternatively, is it possible to have the conference line open during the entire trial period. Of course, the pretrial and trial attorneys would only be allowed to use the conference line during the 60-second period.
Our Committee expanded the timeframe to discuss irregularities set by CRF (30 seconds) to discuss irregularities to 60 seconds, understanding that during a virtual competition, it would take students extra seconds to text, call or email with their coaches. No additional time will be allowed nor will there be a one-minute pause. Regarding possible use of a conference line vs. some other method of communication, coaches can be waiting on a conference line for their students to call in, however, students may not communicate with coaches during any period other than that designated for brief coach consultation regarding irregularities.
Is there a cap on the number of coaches and Teachers allowed in the competition? We have four coaches and one teacher. Also, will our defense team be permitted to watch when the prosecution team is competing and vice versa?
The only persons permitted in the virtual courtroom are the teacher, the coaches and the students who are listed on the Trial Team Roster (TTR) as performing roles or as the substitutes for the roles in that specific trial. You may have your 4 coaches (assuming they are registered as coaches) and 1 teacher present, however, students who are not listed on the TTR to perform in a role, or serve as a substitute, are not permitted to enter the virtual courtroom to watch.
May attorneys use the screen share function to publish exhibits for the judge during examination of witnesses or during closing argument?
Students are not allowed to use the Share Screen feature, and need not publish exhibits for the judge. Rule 1.3.B requires all team members to have the official exhibits and the case readily available. The judge will also have a copy of the exhibits in the judicial binder. If a trial attorney wishes to direct the attention of a witness or judge to an exhibit, she or he should verbally describe it and urge the witness or judge to refer to the copy of the exhibit in their possession. The attorney may also hold the exhibit up to the screen.
Does the pretrial motion permit argument on both aspects of custodial interrogation? The case packet on page 14 appears only to address the custodial aspect.
Yes, students should be prepared to address both the issues of whether Croddy was in custody and whether the verbal exchange was interrogation. Other portions of the case packet, including the Arguments section on pages 16 – 17, suggest that both aspects should be addressed during the pretrial motion.
Regarding the team rosters, may we make changes after they have been submitted? Also, are the substitutes included in the maximum of 25 members per team?
Yes to both! If you have adjustments to your team roster, you may submit those through January 15, 2021, and they should include anyone who will or may participate, including the substitutes permitted this year due to the virtual format. When your trial team rosters (TTRS) are submitted the day before each round of competition, we will check to see that the students were included in your previously submitted team roster.
During practice for the competition, our students have noticed that they have to readjust their cameras if they move from sitting to standing, which is difficult to do. They have also noticed that when standing, they are farther away from the computer microphone making it more difficult to hear their voices. Regarding the rules as to whether a student should sit or stand when they are onscreen performing their trial role, is there a preference that students stand? Will it improve their score if they stand?
We have received numerous questions about standing vs. sitting. Many of them can be answered by a close reading of Rules 3.4, 3.6 (A) and (B). All participants may sit during their mock trial presentations, and witnesses and clerks should be seated during their presentation. Pretrial Attorneys, Trial Attorneys and Bailiffs should choose a sitting or standing position which allows them to perform most comfortably and ensures proximity to their microphone so they can be heard. As recommended in the Zoom Tips released last week, participants should avoid changing positions between sitting and standing while they are onscreen so that they do not have to adjust cameras and/or microphones and to avoid distraction. The scorers will not increase, or lower, any participant’s score based on whether they are sitting or standing.
May students use headsets or ear buds during the mock trial?
Yes, students may use wireless or wired headsets, earphones or ear buds. Scorers and judges understand students will be using different devices and equipment and may not have access to a completely quiet environment during the competition.
Will there be any additional errata or changes to the case materials?
CRF issued their final set of case materials, which include all previously published errata on Friday, January 8, 2021. During trial, teams should use only the final case materials, and if page or line numbers have changed as a result, please use the updated materials. The judges and scorers will only have at their disposal the final case materials.
Can you provide clarification with respect to the pretrial argument? Can pretrial attorneys argue the circumstances leading up to Croddy’s being in the car with Officer Byrd? Or, are they limited to the circumstances that were present when Croddy and Officer Byrd were in the car together?
Page 17 of the case materials includes a list of sources for the pretrial motion arguments, which are described as a “closed library” including: “excerpts from the U.S. Constitution, edited court opinions, and Pretrial Facts.” The Pretrial Facts are found on Page 16 of your materials. To the extent that the Pretrial Facts refer to anything leading up to the trip in the car, including what was asked of Croddy before entering the car, and his responses and actions, those may be argued if you believe they are relevant in light of the court opinions and law.
How may coaches communicate with students during the 60-second time periods permitted to consult regarding irregularities?
During this 60-second period only, coaches may communicate with students by email (which can include a group of students and coaches), texting (which can include a group of students and coaches), or by conference call or a multi-party call. If only one coach and one designated student wish to communicate via the “private chat” function on Zoom, they may also do so. This information may differ from that discussed during the orientation in November; the San Diego County High School Mock Trial Committee subsequently learned that private chats are limited to two parties, and thus, would not be a feasible option if the consultation regarding irregularities were to involve more than one coach or teacher and one student. Please note that this is the only time during the trial where coaches may communicate with students, other than to be notified that a student is experiencing technical difficulties. Any other communication would be a violation of the rules and would warrant an imposition of a penalty.
Are parents, or persons other than students, teachers, and coaches allowed to attend the virtual mock trials?
Unfortunately, presence in the virtual courtrooms is limited to the participants (students, teachers, and coaches) so as not to compromise bandwidth. As was mentioned during sessions with coaches and teachers in the fall, and as outlined in Rule 1.3(O), each trial will be recorded and a copy of the recording relating to their team will be sent to the team’s coaches and teachers, who are permitted to share the recording with parents and guardians. No one is permitted to publish the recordings or post them to any social media site. The Awards Ceremony scheduled for 1 p.m. on February 20th will be livestreamed and parents, family members, schoolmates, and friends are invited and welcome to watch. Information about livestreaming will be available on this website and will be provided to the coaches and teachers.