Mock Trial is probably one of my favorite activities that I participate in on campus. I talk about this all the time to my friends, assuming they know what I mean. Finally one of them told me that they have no idea what I’m talking about. When I talk about Mock Trial, most people just assume it’s like Suits/Law and Order/Legally Blonde/My Cousin Vinny/A Few Good Men/Judge Judy/pretty much any other legal TV drama or movie. I think what I’ve learned most from Mock Trial is that it’s nothing like any of these. Well, it’s a little bit like them. Movies and television aim to show the most exciting parts of a trial. The “Gotcha” moment. Shouting “I Object!!” when a witness says something damning. These moments are fun, and they do happen, but there is so much more to Mock Trial.
Here’s the breakdown. Every August, the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) releases a case that they have created. It includes an array of witnesses with statements, affidavits, and expert reports; from these you build your case. It also includes specific case law that AMTA makes up that apply to the case of the year. Finally, it comes with different exhibits. These are usually emails that witnesses have sent or diagrams of places where the crime occurred. Mock Trial teams from universities all over the country take all of this information and prepare for competitions. Every team has to prepare two sides: a plaintiff and a defense. During the fall semester we go to invitationals and pit our case that we lovingly built against other teams’. This is where you can see where the holes are in your case, as well as pick up on interesting angles that other teams use in their case.
Plaintiff/Prosecution goes first. They call three witnesses who they direct (they get to tell their side of the story), and then the opposing team does a cross examination of these same witnesses (to poke holes in the story they just told). Defense begins their case after a brief recess. They also get to direct three witnesses and have Plaintiff/Prosecution cross these witnesses. I think one of my favorite parts of Mock is that you walk into a room of complete strangers, and then for the next 2 hours or so you argue with them about made up crimes and people. It’s an amazing process and I’m always so impressed that everyone pulls it off.
At this point in the season we are preparing for the National Championship in Greenville, South Carolina. Nationals is a tournament where the top 48 teams in the country get to compete against each other with a whole new case. The competition is tough. We’re practicing 2+ hours a day. We spend hours going through each direct examination finding every possible place another team could object. We memorize obscure, made-up case law so that we can call out other teams on improper evidence. We meticulously style our witnesses so that we look like intelligent scientists, crazy bellhops, and definitely-innocent child-murderers. But it’s a labor of love.
UPDATE 4/19: There are roughly 650 Mock Trial programs that compete across the US. A select few make it to the Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS). Only 48 get out of ORCS and make it to Nationals. After much anticipation I am happy to announce that UD’s Mock Trial team finished 8th at the Furman University Bell Tower National Championship! This is a record for the club. In addition to our amazing finish, one of our attorneys, senior Ellie Wallace, won an All-American Award for Outstanding Attorney and had the 3rd highest score out of all the other attorneys competing.
It was a long weekend of scrimmages and competition, but in the end we surpassed our wildest expectations. It’s satisfying to know that all the work we put in this past month paid off. Now that the season is over, I know I will become very nostalgic for this club that is so dear to my heart. I’m so fortunate to have had such wonderful teammates with whom I could share the experience. Thank you for everything.
~Anne Grae Martin