A mock trial is a simulation or enactment of a judicial proceeding. Mock trials may be based on historical events, cases of contemporary interest, school events, or hypothetical situations and fact patterns. The format of a mock trial can be either formal or informal. The format chosen depends on the objectives of the class, the time available, and the sophistication of the participants.
Mock trials provide participants with knowledge of the judicial system, legal process, and courtroom procedure. Mock trials help to: develop participant questioning, critical thinking, and oratory skills; demonstrate the roles of various actors in the legal system; and provide the class with exposure to legal resource people, such as judges, attorneys, and law participants.
- Distribute the mock trial materials to the class. All participants should read the entire set of materials including facts of the case, witness statements, and any other materials.
- Assign or have participants volunteer for the various roles in the mock trial. Depending on the type of trial, participants should be selected to play the roles of attorneys, witnesses, jurors, bailiff, court reporter, court observers, or a judge. For the role of judge, it is often helpful to invite a resource person, such as a law student, attorney, or real judge.
- Carefully prepare participants for the mock trial. Involve the maximum number of participants by dividing the class into training groups.
- Divide the participants (attorneys, witnesses) into a plaintiff’s team (a prosecution team in a criminal trial) and a defense team. Each team has the responsibility for preparing its side of the case.
- Further divide the participants into task groups. Groups can be assigned to prepare for various tasks in a trial. For example, a civil trial with two witnesses on each side involves the following tasks:
- opening statement
- direct examination of plaintiff witness #1
- direct examination of plaintiff witness #2
- cross examination of defense witness #1
- cross examination of defense witness #2
- closing argument
- opening statement
- cross examination of plaintiff witness #1
- cross examination of plaintiff witness #2
- direct examination of defense witness #1
- direct examination of defense witness #2
- closing argument
If a jury trial is used, participants assigned to a jury may use this time to discuss the role of the jury, jury selection procedures in the local community, and the historical development of the jury system. A resource person should be involved if this option is used.
simplified rules of evidence
In U.S. courtrooms, elaborate rules regulate the admission of evidence. These rules ensure that both parties receive a fair hearing and exclude evidence that is irrelevant, untrustworthy, or unduly prejudicial. For purposes of a classroom mock trial, the rules of evidence may be greatly simplified. The following rules are those most commonly applied to a classroom mock trial.
1. Form of questions
Leading questions are permitted during the cross‑examination but not during direct examination of a witness. A leading question is one that suggests the answer desired by the person asking the question. Direct questions are generally phrased to evoke a narrative answer.
- Example of a direct question: Mr. Bryant, can you please tell us what happened to you on the night of July 23rd?
- Example of a leading question: Mr. Hayes, isn’t it true that you were drinking on the night of July 23rd?
2. Witness opinions
As a general rule, witnesses may not voice their opinions. They should confine testimony to matters of personal knowledge (i.e., what they did, saw, heard, smelled, etc.). Certain witnesses who have special knowledge or experience in a certain field, however, may be qualified as “expert witnesses.” An expert witness may express an opinion about his or her area of special expertise.
- Example of a question for an expert: Doctor, what medical condition caused the plaintiff to die?
Hearsay is an out‑of‑court statement offered to prove the truth of what is asserted in the statement.
- For example, suppose a witness says, “I heard that John Bryant has a criminal record.” This is hearsay if offered to prove that John Bryant has a criminal record. Such statements as “I was told...,” “I heard ...,” “I was informed...,” are other typical examples of hearsay statements. As a general rule, hearsay is not permitted as evidence in a trial. Participants should learn, however, that there are exceptions to the rule against hearsay and that it is sometimes permitted in an actual trial.
Only relevant testimony may be presented. Irrelevant testimony is that which has nothing to do with the issues in the case. For example, to ask whether a witness to an alleged crime has read any good books lately would obviously disclose irrelevant facts for a jury or judge to consider.
5. Introduction of Physical Evidence
If there is any physical evidence (e.g., documents, photographs, etc.) that either side wishes to have introduced at trial, this may be done by
- Asking the judge for permission to have an item marked for identification (e.g., “Your Honor, I ask that this letter be marked for identification as Defendant’s Exhibit A.”)
- Showing the item to the other side to give them an opportunity to make any objections.
- Asking the witness on the stand to identify the item (e.g., “Mr. Kay, I show you what has been marked Defendant’s Exhibit A. Could you please tell us what it is?”)
- Moving the item into evidence (e.g., “Your Honor, I offer this letter for admission into evidence.”)
If a witness’s testimony contradicts the facts as offered in the his or her witness statement or other witness statements, the opposing side can impeach the witness on cross‑examination. “Impeach” means that the opposing side can point out the contradiction and thereby call into question the truthfulness of the witness.
To impeach a witness, the opposing side should
- Show the witness statement to the person on the stand.
- Ask, “Is this your sworn statement?”
- Have them read the portion of the statement that contradicts their testimony.
- Point out the contradiction to the court.
In classroom situations, the participant attorney may object if the other side introduces evidence that cannot reasonably be deduced from the fact pattern given.