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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.”)
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