Four Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Mock Trial

Written by Sarah Bitter

When mentioned, the words “Mock Trial” typically bring about thoughts of debating lawyers, scrutinizing judges, and a strict courtroom. While all of these definitely exist in Mock Trial competitions, many other aspects of the program increase the value and opportunities available for those involved in the PGHS Mock Trial Team. With the Monterey County Mock Trial Championship already underway, and Pacific Grove’s own Mock Trial team having faced rival Carmel this past Monday, the intricacies of the Mock Trial Program deserve to be discussed. With that in mind, we have compiled several common misconceptions about Mock Trial.

Misconception: The lawyers contribute the most to the team.

As cliché as it sounds, all of the different roles in the Mock Trial program ranging from witnesses to clerks hold the same significance. Each role has the ability to score points for the team, and therefore each contributes equally to the team successes. Furthermore, every point counts in Mock Trial, making each role, and the possible points available from that role, extremely valuable. In one instance, our team and Carmel’s team obtained the exact same score, and only a decision by the judge allowed Pacific Grove the victory. In this situation, one more point gained or lost by any role – bailiff, pre-trial attorney, clerk – could have broken the tie and provided a different outcome.

Misconception: The outcome of the trial (guilty or not guilty) directly influences which team wins.

Although it sounds counterintuitive, the judge’s ruling does not affect who “wins” the trial. Technically, whoever possesses the most points at the end of the trial earns the victory. When a team manages to prove a particularly hard case because of the opposing team’s incompetence, however, the ruling may be a reflection of the one team’s ability to prove a more difficult case. The judge might also award more points to the winning team for a particularly effective presentation, or take away points from the losing team because they lacked a strong argument.

Misconception: The only roles in the Mock Trial program are lawyers and witnesses.

False! So many other opportunities exist in Mock Trial, as described below:

  • Bailiffs maintain order in the courtroom, and perform certain tasks such as swearing in witnesses. By fulfilling their duties with certainty and dignity, bailiffs can score important points for the team.
  • Clerks manage the time each team takes throughout various parts of trial. As each team must perform under time restrictions, the clerk, and his/her exactness, remains an essential role in Mock Trial.
  • Pre-trial attorneys set boundaries for the following trial through arguing for or against pre-trial motions. Pre-trial attorneys must present their memorized arguments in order to convince the judge to grant or deny the motion, all while answering demanding questions from the judge. The outcome of these motions often affect the trial through excluding or including evidence, an act which possesses the ability to change the tactics of the entire team
  • Courtroom artists produce drawings of the trials during competition. At the trials, the artists demonstrate their artistic talents along with experiencing the judicial process as they view the trial
  • Courtroom journalists participate as reporters writing pieces about the trials during competitions. Like the courtroom artists, courtroom journalists use their skills in the courtroom while they observe the trial and obtain valuable information about the judicial process.

Misconception: A team’s use of the law is the most important aspect of the team’s strategy.

This is a common misconception held by many, including some who participate in the trials. The use of law, as important as it may be, is not the most significant aspect of a trial case as many other features also contribute to a team’s overall strategy. A thorough understanding and comprehension of the information presented and the themes being conveyed throughout the case guide the attorneys in creating a powerful case and allow witnesses to make informed and appropriate responses to intimidating questions. In addition, presentation heavily affects the scores earned by Mock Trial teams. Participants who make credible, appropriate impressions upon the judges and scoring attorneys often earn more points. For example, judges and scoring attorneys expect witnesses to maintain a believable character, bailiffs and clerks to remain authoritative, and attorneys to always act as professionals. Ignoring the law, however, negatively impacts the teams’ appearance and presentation, giving impetus to their own downfall. Without an understanding of the law and the trial information, and without an appropriate presentation teams are almost guaranteed to fail.  It takes an equal combination of each factor in order to achieve success in the Mock Trial program.