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.

2023 Competition Questions

is the year of Shakespeare's death considered unfair extrapolation since it's not specifically mentioned in the case packet?

Thank you for your question.  Guidance for the answer can be found in Rules 3.5B and 3.5C and 3.6.  Those rules state that the only source of information from the trial may come from the fact situation, witness statements, stipulations, and exhibits.  Only fair extrapolations (reasonable inferences based on the facts) and no unfair extrapolations (UE) may occur.  Employing a fact not in the record, such as the year of Shakespeare’s death, does not appear to be a “reasonable inference” made from facts in the record and thus, could be argued as a UE depending on the way it is used in the trial. 

 As occurs often in the practice of law, there is not a clear-cut answer to your question, but we hope this clarifies the issue for your team.

Is it permissible to cross-examine the defendant Franks with testimony provided by other witnesses since the defendant is deemed to be present throughout the trial when the other witnesses testify?

Rule 3.5 C and D state:  A witness can only testify to their own witness statement and any portion of the fact situation, stipulations, and exhibits of which they would reasonably have knowledge. Witnesses may not testify or respond to another witness’ testimony, unless otherwise stated in the stipulations.  And, unless otherwise stated, attorneys may not solicit information from a witness that requires the witness to testify to information from another witness’ statement or information not included in their own statement except as permitted in Rule 3.5 C.

Further, the case packet states on pages 53 and 54 the following: “As a witness, the official source of your testimony, or record, is composed of your witness statement, and any portion of the fact situation, stipulations, and exhibits, of which you would reasonably have knowledge.”

Read together, these rules prohibit confronting the Defendant with statements of other witnesses during cross-examination.

Is video-streaming the only option for parents to watch the competition?

While the committee is mindful that many parents would love to see their children compete in person, the competition has grown now to include 40 teams.  We must give in person priority to all team participants first.  And unfortunately, the court does not have staffing capacity and physical space to accommodate non-participants as well as participating students.  We have tried to account for this by outfitting all of our competition courtrooms with equipment so parents, friends and other loved ones may view their student, via video streaming, during the competition.  With the exception of the semi-final and final rounds, this is the only option for non-participants to view the competition.       

Rule 3.2 P forbids questions regarding gender, race, physical traits, etc. to witnesses unless that information is mentioned in their witness statement. I believe that is to prevent unfair extrapolation, and thus, witnesses/attorneys can’t use individual-specific traits, which may vary from team to team and person to person, to testify or make their arguments. However, does this require all students to refer to all witnesses with a gender-neutral “they/them” pronouns, or “Mx”? It is against the rules for our students to refer to a witness as “Ms. Franks” or “Mr. Scher”?

Thank you for this important question.  We have consulted with CRF and are advised that the rules do not require the use of gender-neutral pronouns.  Thus, attorneys may refer to witnesses using a pronoun or title consistent with the witness’ gender.  However, if on the team roster or in court, the particular witness or attorney specifically indicates preferred pronouns (which could include gender neutral pronouns), attorneys and witnesses are asked to abide by that request.  As teams will not know who is taking on what role until shortly before each trial, it would be a best practice for witnesses to refer to other witnesses or persons by their names, e.g. Billie Scher, Ari Kouch, etc.

 

Will parents, family members or other spectators be permitted to come and watch the mock trials this year?

During Rounds One through Four, mock trial student team members, teachers, coaches, judges, scorers and mock trial staff will be permitted to observe the mock trials in the court rooms.  However, each of the mock trials will be available live on MS Teams, and each team will be sent the link to watch the trial the day before the trial, and are encouraged to share that link with family, friends and schoolmates.  Of course, links may not be shared with students or personnel from other teams, and may not be shared in order to assist a team in scouting another team.  See Rule 1.5.

While swearing in a witness, does the bailiff need to ask each witness to state their name and spell their last name? It is not in the script for bailiffs contained on page 55 of the case packet, but I believe it is common practice in real trials.

Neither Rule 3.9, nor the script provided in the case materials, require the bailiff to ask the witness to state and spell their name.  However, it would be appropriate for the bailiff to ask the witness to state and spell their name, as that may be helpful to the scorers and the judge to note which witness is testifying.

I was not able to attend the TimeKeepers Clinic on January 12. Where can I view a recording of the Timekeepers Clinic?

A recording of the TimeKeepers Clinic can be found at sdmocktrial.org under the Materials & Calendar Tab, in the Resources File. 

CRF issued a number of errata through the end of 2022. Will there be any more errata?

No, there will not be any more errata.  Please note that CRF issued a final set of materials containing all of the changes noted in the errata, which can be accessed on this website under the Materials & Calendar Tab.  Also, all registered coaches and teachers were sent a copy of the final set of materials via email on January 10th.  The final materials are the only version available to the judges and scorers so teams are reminded to use only those during the mock trial.

 

Does the clock run or is time stopped when an attorney approaches a witness with an exhibit?

Rule 3.9 G provides the complete list of events which stop time and an attorney approaching a witness with an exhibit is not included in that list.  The attorney approaching the witness with an exhibit is akin to when witnesses are asked to approach a diagram; Rule 3.9 I. states that time is not to be stopped under that circumstance.

Is it correct that Stipulation 23 is in the case, or is that an oversight? Stipulation 23 appears in the final packet issued Jan. 9, 2023. But, I had read the errata sheets dated Nov. 18, 2022 and Dec. 15, 2022 removing that stipulation.

The Constructional Rights Foundation was made aware of the error after the final case was posted to their website.  They made the correction and removed Stipulation 23 from the updated case and reposted the corrected version to their website.  You can access the correct case via our website and using the password.