Mock Trial: A Case for Success

Written By: Ms. Samantha Burr, Theology teacher and Mock Trial Advisor
Reprinted from The Aggies Archives, Spring 2019

“That definitely didn’t have any bearing on the legal merits of the case—I can’t believe the judge ruled that was relevant!”

“Did you hear that witness on cross?… They just sounded ridiculous!”

“They obviously weren’t listening when the judge warned them about leading questions…”

This may not be ordinary conversation for high school students, but these are the kind of comments I overheard constantly from Aggies before and after mock trial competitions. It always amused me to hear them arguing the limits of speculation in a particular line of questioning or the proper tone that a newspaper editor being sued for “reckless disregard of the truth” should take on cross examination.

This winter, Saint Agnes fielded a mock trial team for the first time in several years. The activity is designed to help high school students grow in understanding of the legal system while practicing skills such as public speaking, acting, and debate. The Minnesota State Bar Association, which sponsors the competition, publishes a case packet—approximately 75 pages including witness affidavits, exhibits, and a simplified version of the federal rules of evidence—that students sift through while developing a case for both the plaintiff (or prosecution) and defense. At a mock trial competition, two opposing schools each take one side, trying to convince the judge(s) and jury (usually imaginary) that their side’s case is best supported by the facts. Students represent the attorneys and the different witnesses called to the stand, and working together to pull the most relevant facts from the case materials. It’s an activity that requires students to read critically, write persuasively, and play a role convincingly. Significant improvisational and debate skills are also necessary, as student attorneys earn higher scores by objecting when they hear evidence that is not admissible in court or by arguing against an objection from someone on an opposing team.

I myself have fond memories of bonding with my high school mock trial friends over discussions of hearsay and the best way to portray a witness accused of murder. When a 9th grade student approached me at the beginning of the year and asked me to lead mock trial at Saint Agnes, it didn’t take me long to agree. Throughout the season, I could not have been more proud of the Aggies who joined our team. Students spent many hours writing and editing speeches, meeting before school to practice delivering them, and getting feedback on how to best address different points of the law. Others spent time analyzing what outfit would best represent who their witness was and make them seem trustworthy to our imaginary jury. Students worked together to memorize and fine tune the delivery of direct and cross examinations. They collaborated to reword questions that called for the witness to report hearsay or engage in speculation.

Perhaps most impressive was how our students learned to handle themselves with grace and humility in high pressure situations. While still fiercely arguing in objection battles and pushing other team’s witnesses on cross examination, our students were able to balance their desire to win with showing kindness and civility. My proudest moment was when a parent from an opposing team emailed to say how impressed they were with the conduct of the Saint Agnes students, who remained kind and respectful while putting up a good fight. With a team full of rookies, I was not expecting our students to advance very far in the regional competitions, but I was excited that both teams brought home a win—both Saint Agnes teams emerged victorious in one of their three regional trials. I can’t wait to see how these students, and others, continue to grow when they come back to compete next year!

This article and more are featured in the Spring 2019 issue of The Aggie Archives