Purpose

A mock trial is a simulation or enactment of a judicial proceeding. Mock trials provide students with knowledge of the judicial system, legal process, and courtroom procedures. Mock trials help to: develop students’ questioning skills, 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 school students. 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 formal vs. informal format depends on the objectives of the activity, the time available, and the students’ skills and prior experiences.

To access a collection of free civil and criminal mock trials, check out Street Law’s resource library. You may also be interested in Street Law’s Classroom Guide to Mock Trials and Moot Courts.  

Procedures

  1. Distribute the mock trial materials to the class. All students should read the entire set of materials including facts of the case, witness statements, and any other material.
  2. Assign or ask for students to volunteer for the various roles in the mock trial. Depending on the type of trial, students should be selected to play the roles of attorneys, witnesses, bailiff, and court reporter. You can form a jury using students from your class, students from outside the class (e.g., study hall) or adult volunteers. Generally a teacher plays the role of the judge in order to ensure proper courtroom procedure.
  3. Prepare students for the mock trial by dividing the class into training groups:
    • Plaintiff team (a prosecution team in a criminal trial): ask students to prepare opening statements, prepare direct and cross-examination questions, prepare witnesses for their testimony on the stand, and closing arguments. Be sure to share the rules of evidence with students as they prepare for the trial.
    • Defense team: ask students to prepare opening statements, prepare direct and cross-examination questions, prep witnesses for examination and cross-examination, and prepare closing arguments. Be sure to share the rules of evidence with students as they prepare for the trial.
    • (optional) Support role team (bailiff, court reporter, and jury): help you prepare for the trial by running errands and setting up the room.
  4. Conduct the trial. A civil trial with two witnesses on each side involves the following steps. (If you are conducting a criminal trial, replace the term plaintiff with prosecution.)
    • Plaintiff team opening statement
    • Defense team opening statement
    • Direct examination of plaintiff witness #1
    • Cross examination of plaintiff witness #1
    • Direct examination of plaintiff witness #2
    • Cross examination of plaintiff witness #2
    • Direct examination of defense witness #1
    • Cross examination of defense witness #1
    • Direct examination of defense witness #2
    • Cross examination of defense witness #2
    • Plaintiff team closing argument
    • Defense team closing argument
  5. Once closing statements have concluded, explain the deliberation guidelines to the jury and ask the jury to leave the room to deliberate. To make the process more organized, consider asking one jury member to serve as foreman. Once the jury has deliberated and come to a judgement or verdict, ask the jury to return to the room. Either the judge or jury foreman can read the judgement or verdict.
  6. Conclude the trial by asking the jury to explain how they came to their judgement or verdict. Administer any assessments or reflection activities at this point.

Simplified Rules of Evidence

In United States 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.

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. For example, “Mr. Hayes, isn’t it true that you were drinking on the night of July 23rd?”
  • Direct questions are generally phrased to evoke a narrative answer. For example, “Mr. Bryant, can you please tell us what happened to you on the night of July 23rd?”
  • Questions that call for witness opinions: As a general rule, witnesses may not voice their opinions. They should confine their 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. For example, an attorney might ask: “Doctor, what medical condition caused the plaintiff to die?” If the doctor is a veterinarian, the question would not be allowed. If the doctor is a medical examiner or forensic pathologist, it likely would be allowed.
  • Questions that call for hearsay: 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. Students should learn, however, that there are exceptions to the rule against hearsay and that it is sometimes permitted in an actual trial.
  • Questions that are irrelevant: Only relevant testimony may be presented. Irrelevant testimony is that which has nothing to do with the issues in the case. For example, if a lawyer asked, “Mr. Hayes, what is the last good book you read?” that question would not be pertinent to the case.

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 attorneys on 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, this 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.”)

Impeachment:

If a witness’s testimony contradicts the facts as offered in the witness statement or other witness statements, attorneys on 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?”
  • Ask the witness to read the portion of the statement that contradicts his or her testimony.
  • Point out the contradiction to the court.

In classroom situations, student attorneys may object if the other side introduces evidence that cannot reasonably be deduced from the fact pattern given.