Spotlight on Mock Trial Team
Although winter break is underway, Hamilton’s Mock Trial team is not slowing down. Team members will individually be rewriting the bulk of their scripts, memorizing and studying case law and rules of evidence during break. In addition, team members will return from break one week early to practice as a team and prepare for a tournament at the Ohio Northern University before the spring semester starts (Jan 15-18). All of this preparation leads up to the Regional Tournament (Feb 5-7) at Pennsylvania State College.
Mock Trial is a national competition that involves pitting two different schools against each other to simulate a fake trial. Each year the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) distributes a case (criminal cases in odd years and civil cases in even years) full of fictional witness affidavits, exhibits, expert reports and case law. The teams use this information, supplemented by a modified version of real rules of evidence and courtroom procedure, to construct both prosecution and defense case theories, that they will then argue throughout the year at mock trial tournaments.
At mock trial tournaments, the team presents its defense case twice and its prosecution case twice, for a total of four trials during the weekend. The team won’t know who they’re competing against, which side of the case they will present, or who the other team will call for witnesses until about 30 minutes before competition, so it’s imperative that all team members are completely prepared. The trial itself is scored by two judges: they may be law students, lawyers or real judges.
There are two different types of competitions for mock trial: invitational and AMTA-sponsored tournaments. Invitationals typically involve 15-20 teams, and take place over the course of a full weekend. In the fall, the team typically competes in at least two invitational tournaments such as University of Rochester and Yale University’s. In the spring semester, the team usually competes at one or two other invitational tournaments.
All of these competitions prepare the team for the AMTA-sponsored competitions in the second half of the spring semester. These competitions work slightly differently than the other two types of competitions in that every registered team in the country has the opportunity to compete at the first level of competition (Regionals). From here, the top eight teams from each regional competition move forward to the Opening Round Championships (ORCs). At this level, the top six teams at each tournament move on to the National tournament. That means that in a good year, Hamilton’s mock trial students will compete throughout the entire academic year.
In order to prepare for these tournaments, Hamilton’s mock trial team starts practice as early as possible in the fall semester. Team members work together to determine what the most important facts of the case are, and how they can best highlight them in the given time. As mentioned earlier the team is preparing cases for both the prosecution and defense, which involves writing opening statements (a 5 minute memorized speech), three direct examinations (our student-attorneys question our student-witnesses for a total of 25 minutes), anywhere from 6-12 cross examinations (our student-attorneys question the opposing team’s witnesses for 25 minutes or less), and a closing statement (typically an 8 minute speech with a 1 minute improvised rebuttal) for each side. When put into practice, trials typically last three hours.
While all of these written elements are memorized, mock trial actually involves a much improvisation and on-the-spot problem solving. This is because the opposing team can object to testimony and to questions based on the rules of evidence. Attorneys must be ready to argue spontaneously in objection battles, and witnesses must be ready to modify or skip parts of their scripts if the line of questioning is stricken.
The team is very competitive, so in order to efficiently prepare for tournaments, Hamilton’s team has mandatory practices every Tuesday and Thursday for at least two hours. Depending on what part of the season the team is in, they may also meet on the weekend for anywhere from two to six hours. In addition, team members are expected to practice running scripts, and study the rules of evidence, affidavits and case law on their own time. While this amount of time varies from person to person, and how close the team is to another tournament, most team members put in an additional 2-12 hours per week. When the team is at a tournament, they are either in trial or preparing from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. for a full weekend.
This year, Hamilton’s mock trial team has 17 members: Co-Captains Hunter Green ’16 and Caroline Reppert ’17, Genevieve Caffrey ’17, Andrew Fischer ’17, Caroline Kreidberg ’17, Silvia Radulescu ’17, Sam Weckenman ’17, Ryan Bloom ’18, Thomas Duda ’18, Conor O’Shea ’18, Jon Stanhope ’18, Rachel Dawson ’19, Ram Franqui ’19, Daniela Gonzalez ’19, Samantha Gordon ’19, Brad Marston ’19 and Patrick McConnell ’19. While most of the team members are majoring in either government or philosophy with plans to attend law school, there is no requirement that team members be “pre-law.” Other popular fields of study for team members include English, sociology, economics and psychology.
Unfortunately, only 10 members can compete at most tournaments. While this means that not everyone can compete at every tournament, it is a long-standing tradition and firmly held belief of the Hamilton team that every full-time member gets to compete in at least one tournament. When determining who competes at which tournament, the captains take a variety of factors into consideration. They first consider whether the team member is likely to be more effective as a witness or attorney. From there, a team member’s personality dictates what type of witness they portray or, if they’re an attorney, which types of witnesses they examine.
To learn more about Hamilton Mock Trial, the website is up to date, or email the captains at firstname.lastname@example.org.