A Five-Minute Introduction to Mock Trial
Are you brand-new to the mock trial world and not sure where to start? You’ve come to the right place!
Some Basic Mock Trial Terms
In mock trial, there are two parties: the plaintiff and the defendant. In a criminal case, the plaintiff is the “People” of the state. The People are represented by a prosecutor (or team of prosecutors). The People are also referred to as “the prosecution”. In a criminal case, the defendant is the person accused of committing a crime (or crimes).
The prosecution charges Defendant with one count for each crime the Defendant is accused of committing.
Burden of Proof
The plaintiff has the burden of proof. This means the prosecution has to prove that the defendant committed the crime. The prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the crime.
The defendant does not have to prove that they are innocent.
What Happens During a Mock Trial
Each party (prosecution and defense) offers evidence. Evidence includes witness testimony and exhibits. Exhibits might be a map showing the crime scene, the weapon used in the murder, a photograph, a letter, etc.
There are Rules of Evidence that dictate what evidence a judge can consider. When you follow the rules, the judge admits your evidence, meaning that it is considered when determining whether the defendant is guilty. When you don’t follow the Rules of Evidence, your opponent can object and keep the judge from considering the testimony or exhibit you’re offering.
Sequence of a Mock Trial
- The bailiff calls courtroom to order, announces the case and judge’s name, and might announces courtroom rules. The judge sits down at the bench and invites appearances.
- Appearances and Introductions: Mock trial team members introduce themselves to the judge.
- Pretrial Argument (if applicable in your state/jurisdiction): The defense asks the judge to exclude some evidence from the trial, and the prosecution asks the judge to keep the evidence in. Both pretrial attorneys make arguments, which they support with the Constitution and Supreme Court cases interpreting the Constitution. The pretrial argument looks like a debate, except the judge can interrupt with questions. Each attorney presents their argument, and then they each respond to their opponent’s argument during what’s called the rebuttal. After the arguments and rebuttals, the judge announces the decision on the motion.
- Trial attorneys take a seat at counsel table, and pretrial attorneys join the audience.
- Opening Statement: Attorneys introduce the judge to the case and provide a preview of the evidence, including the testimony they expect the witnesses to give. A prosecution attorney will give an opening statement first. The defense can give its opening statement right after the prosecution, or it can wait until just before its case-in-chief.
- Prosecution’s Case-in-Chief: The prosecution offers evidence to prove its case. It does this by calling its witnesses to the stand, one at a time. For each witness, a prosecution attorney conducts a direct examination, meaning that they ask the witness questions. The witness’s answers (their testimony) is the evidence the prosecution will use to prove the defendant’s guilt. After the direct examination, a defense attorney gets to ask the witness questions; this is called cross examination. The prosecution then can ask the witness more questions during what’s called the redirect examination. Each attorney can make objections to questions asked by the opposing attorney, or to testimony the witness gives during opposing counsel’s examination. This direct-cross-redirect process will take place for each of the prosecution’s witnesses. When the prosecution team is done calling witnesses, it rests its case.
- Defense’s Case-in-Chief: This defense then offers evidence. The defense calls its witnesses to the stand, one at a time. For each witness, a defense attorney conducts the direct examination, then the prosecution conducts cross-examination, then defense can redirect. After calling all of its witnesses, the defense rests.
- Closing Argument: Attorneys discuss admitted evidence. They also argue how that evidence should be interpreted and what decision the judge should reach. The prosecution gives its closing argument first, followed by the defense.
- Rebuttal: Attorneys respond to the closing argument made by opposing counsel. The prosecution gives its rebuttal first, followed by the defense.
- Verdict: The judge announces whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
Mock Trial Scoring
Just because your team won the verdict does not mean it won the mock trial competition! The winner of the competition is determined by scores, which are usually given by practicing attorneys or teachers. Scorers give a number score to each participant for each part of the trial. For example, a witness will earn a performance score, and the attorneys conducting the direct examination and cross-examination will each get a score too.
I hope you feel ready to jump right into the mock trial world! Still have questions? Leave a comment and I’ll respond ASAP!