In 1980, Constitutional Rights Foundation (CRF) introduced the Mock Trial program, which already had a strong following in Los Angeles County, to all the counties in California. The program was created to help students acquire a working knowledge of our judicial system, develop analytical abilities and communication skills, and gain an understanding of their obligations and responsibilities as participating members of our society. Currently, the program is implemented in 34 California counties.
Each year, CRF creates and produces a new set of Mock Trial materials based on an important issue facing America’s youth. The materials include a hypothetical criminal case (including summaries of case law, witness statements, official exhibits, and simplified rules of evidence); lesson plans on the central issues in the case; and competition rules and guidelines. Mock Trial materials from past years are available for purchase through CRF’s catalog or web site at www.crf-usa.org.
With the assistance of a teacher-sponsor and attorney coach, CRF’s Mock Trial program engages over 8,000 student-participants across the state of California. Students actively experience the excitement of working in teams, exchanging ideas, setting goals, and examining issues while interacting with positive role models from their communities. By studying the case and preparing strategies and arguments for trial, students also develop presentation skills, analytic ability, and team cooperation.
Judge & Lawyer Volunteers
Each year thousands of members from California’s bar and bench volunteer their time to make the Mock Trial an educational and exciting experience for students. Attorneys serve in a variety of roles— acting as team coaches, scoring, and presiding over trials.
Coaching a team requires a greater commitment of time, but most coaches report a deep sense of fulfillment as a result of their effort. When possible, an attorney coach is assigned to work with each participating Mock Trial team. Coaches advise the students on general trial techniques and procedures and on specific strategies for presenting the case. Time commitments are worked out between the team and the attorney volunteer but generally require meeting once a week, in the month prior to the competition.
As a scorer, attorneys sit in the jury box and evaluate the student’s presentations, while the student teams present their case to a judge or commissioner. They are given a set of criteria for rating the teams numerically. The criteria include the quality of the students’ presentations, their grasp of the law and court procedures, and their understanding of the case itself. (time commitment 2 hours)
Judges or commissioners offer their expertise by presiding over a Mock Trial. Time commitment is approximately two hours per trial, and they may preside over as many trials as they would like. The trials usually involve a pretrial issue and a set of abbreviated rules of evidence. The presider’s role is to keep the trial moving and rule on the pretrial motion, objections and render a verdict in the case. Presiders do not usually score the student presentations. Volunteering as a presider is a great way to educate high school students about our courts and legal system.
The Mock Trial program allows students to develop the skills necessary for the mastery of state standards for history, social science and language arts. Through performance-based education, the program furthers an understanding of both the content and processes of our legal system; increases basic skills, analytical ability, and self-confidence; and promotes cooperation among students of various cultures and interests. Based on responses to formal surveys, teacher-sponsors report significant improvement in students’ basic skills, critical thinking skills, presentations skills, participation skills, and self-esteem as well as increases in students’ content knowledge about the law.
Teams of students prepare and present the trial from the perspectives of both the prosecution and the defense. Mock Trial team members play different roles, including trial attorneys, pretrial motion attorneys, witnesses, clerks, and bailiffs. Some schools offer the Mock Trial program as a class while others offer the program as an extra-curricular activity. Each team should have the following:
9–20 students (from the same school)
1 pretrial attorney for the defense, 1 pretrial attorney for the prosecution (senior division only). Pretrial attorneys cannot participate as trial attorneys during the same trial but can participate as a witness.
- 3 trial attorneys for the prosecution(maximum)
- 3 trial attorneys for the defense (maximum)
- 4 witnesses for the prosecution
- 4 witnesses for the defense
- 1 clerk (participates with the prosecution team)
- 1 bailiff (participates with the defense team)
- Alternates (listed on the Team Roster/Code of Ethics Form) are included in the 20-student maximum.
- 3 courtroom artists or journalists (maximum). These are optional contests and students participating are not included in the 20-student maximum.
The Teacher Sponser
The teacher-sponsor is the official Mock Trial contact person receiving all correspondence from your county coordinator. The teacher also acts as the team coordinator and is responsible for organizing meetings and transportation to and from the competition. The teacher can also coach the team in trial strategy and legal argumentation.
Although not mandatory, most mock trial teams find it useful to have an attorney coach. The attorney coach advises the students on general trial techniques and procedures as well as on specific strategies for the case.