Since 1978, the Gene Franchini High School Mock Trial Program has helped New Mexico teens gain an understanding of the legal system by providing opportunities for school teams to participate in academic competitions where players assume attorney and witness roles in a court case. Coaches help students develop questioning, critical thinking and oral advocacy skills. Mock Trial helps students to improve proficiency in such basic skills as listening, speaking, reading, and reasoning, and it fosters cooperation among diverse groups of young people.
Teams are made up of three witnesses and three attorneys (you may have as many as eight students on a team, but only six may compete in any given round) on each side (prosecution/plaintiff and defense) of the case. Working with their mentors, the students use a problem provided by CCV—a statement of the facts, witness depositions, legal authorities and rules—to prepare opening statements, direct and cross-examinations and closing arguments. The cases are presented before judges and panels of “jurors,” where the teams are judged on their demonstrated knowledge and presentation skills, rather than on the legal merits of the issue at hand.
Mock trial has proven to be an effective and popular part of a comprehensive, law-focused program designed to provide young people with an operational understanding of the law, legal issues and the judicial process. Part of the appeal of a mock trial is the fun involved in preparing for, and participating in, a trial. Mock trials are exciting, but more importantly, they provide invaluable learning experiences.
Participation in, and analysis of, mock trials provides young people with an insider's perspective from which to learn about courtroom procedures. Mock trial helps students gain a basic understanding of the legal mechanism through which society chooses to resolve many of its disputes.
Mock trial also provides an opportunity to incorporate field experiences and community resource persons into the educational process. Visits to local courts will make the activity a more meaningful learning experience. Inviting judges, attorneys, and other members of the community to take part in the program helps to bridge the gap between the simulated activity and reality and also allows these individuals to share their knowledge and experience with young people. Finally, mock trial gives participants practical knowledge about the courts and trials which can be invaluable should they ever be jurors or witnesses in a real trial or principals in a legal action.
(Taken in part from Update on Law-Related Education, Winter, 1978. Update is an American Bar Association publication.)
Education of young people is the primary goal of the mock trial program. Healthy competition helps to achieve this goal. However, teacher coaches are reminded of their responsibility to keep the competitive spirit at a reasonable level. The reality of the adversary system is that one party wins and the other loses, and coaches should be sure to prepare their team members to be ready to accept either outcome in a mature manner. Coaches can help prepare students for either outcome by placing the highest value on excellent preparation and presentation, rather than winning or losing the case.
In addition to students who participate as lawyers, witnesses and timekeepers there is now a courtroom artist contest. The Courtroom Artist Contest is open to high school students, to allow artistically talented students the opportunity to participate in the mock trial program. Artists observe trials and submit sketches that depict actual courtroom scenes. Participants can be part of a team or enter on their own. The top 8 finishers from the qualifier contests will be invited to participate in the state mock trial competition.
Don't let young people you know miss out on this great educational opportunity. Registration begins September 1.