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A mock trial is an imitation proceeding that simulates a lower court trial, meaning a trial that hasn't been appealed. While it generally refers to a program whereby students of all ages act out the stages of a trial as a learning device, it may also be used as a method of preparation by an attorney who wants to ensure his or her witnesses are prepared for trial. Mock trials are often confused with moot courts, but the two may be differentiated by the fact that a moot court simulates a trial at the appellate level.
There are mock trial programs for students of all ages all over the world. Generally, the organization running the program will recruit volunteers to act as witnesses and the participating students will act alone or in teams when representing each side of the case. Both sides will typically receive packets that contain the law that is relevant to their case as well as a statement of the facts. How much analytical work each side is required to conduct is generally dependent upon the age level of the participants. Witnesses receive descriptions of their respective accounts of what occurred and are required to adhere to that perspective during questioning.
The organization running the mock trial will often recruit a volunteer lawyer to act as a judge for the proceeding. Scoring varies based on the organization conducting the mock trial, but participants are typically given a score based on a number of factors at each stage of the trial. After the proceedings are complete, the participant with the highest score wins.
An attorney may also hold a mock trial privately with the purpose of preparing his client and witnesses for an actual proceeding. By running through the questions that he or she is going to ask each witness and preparing him or her for the questions that will likely be asked by the opposing attorney, the attorney can ensure that he or she is on the same page as his or her witnesses. If they are not, one slip up in the actual trial could result in a weakness that the opposing side could exploit, or a loss of credibility in the eyes of the jury.
Mock trial is often confused with moot courts, which are a wholly different type of exercise. Moot court is a simulation of trial at the appellate level — i.e., the party who lost in the lower level of court appeals the decision to the higher court. It is fundamentally different from mock trial in many ways, most obviously that there are no witnesses and no jury.
My high school debate team participated in a mock trial competition one year, and we earned a third place ribbon. The organizers of the competition sent us mock trial scripts as a guide, but we were supposed to do our own research and prepare our own arguments. Most of the mock trial cases involved hot-button issues, like abortion clinic protests and illegal gun show sales.
Our team had to defend a man charged with public intoxication and lewdness after he was caught streaking across a football field during a game. We argued everything we could, from diminished capacity to freedom of expression. We still lost the case, but the judges thought we put up a pretty good defense.
A few years ago, I participated in a mock trial for a research company at a local shopping mall. The case involved a woman who was severely burned after she used gasoline to clean up a paint spill in her kitchen. She was suing the manufacturers of a gas water heater, which she claimed had an open flame too close to the ground. The gasoline fumes reached this flame and ignited. The resulting flashback caused third degree burns over 60% of her body.
The mock trial itself was about as realistic as I think anyone could make it. Her attorney was very low-key and sympathetic, while the attorney for the water heater manufacturer was more stern and business
-like. Both sides presented their evidence and called witnesses and everything. I had a problem with some of the witnesses' credibility, because they seemed too young for the parts they were playing.
I was the foreman of one mock trial jury, and we eventually found in favor of the manufacturer. The woman voluntarily brought a flammable liquid into her home, and the pilot light on the water heater was properly installed.