Staging a Mock Trial

Some Advice ~

Do not merely replicate the trial from the book. That becomes a play. We need to take an issue described in the book and devise a scenario where the outcome is not necessarily a foregone conclusion, a hate crime situation for example. It needs to be a scenario that speaks to the lives of teens.

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One way to do a Mock Trial:

I am glad to share with you a formula that I used for putting on mock trials in Geauga County. This is not the only way, but it is a procedure that worked for me.

We recruited a local law firm, members of which agreed to act as coaches for the students. A firm would need to have at least three attorneys so that it would not become onerous for any one or two. We had one firm coach both the prosecution and the defense, but you could easily use two different firms. The coaches and students together provided any exhibits necessary for evidence.

We have seven public school systems and one parochial high school in the county. I assigned roles to each school proportional to the school's student population. That is the larger schools received more roles than the smaller ones. You could certainly do this entirely within one system if that is more appropriate for you. The roles included:

  • Prosecuting Attorney (second chair optional)
  • Defense Attorney (second chair optional)
    If possible, these two should not be from the same school
  • Bailiff
  • Court Reporter (optional - most students do not have skills for this)
  • Witnesses (number determined by scenario - six to eight is a good number
  • Jury - twelve plus two alternates

We asked schools to choose which students would participate. We urged them to choose students who were interested, had the time to devote to it, had the intellect to handle it, and were comfortable in front of people. We used government teachers as contacts and asked them to select the students carefully. Most did, but a few just asked for volunteers and we got some interesting kids with whom to work (probably not unlike real life trials.)

It is wise, when possible, to get the superintendent and/or the principal to buy in to your project initially, but usually it is the teacher that makes this all work.

We held the trials in one of the courtrooms and asked one of the judges to conduct the trial wearing his official robes. This lent an aura of credibility to the proceedings and definitely adds to the overall impression. We held the trial in the evening and the coaches were on hand. They had invested so much that they really wanted to see the outcome. Family and friends were invited to attend on a first come, first served basis and we always had a full house.

We also had the local cable company videotape both the trial and the jury proceedings. The schools were then urged to use the tapes in classrooms as a jumping off point for discussion of the issues and/or the points of low that were emphasized in the trial.

We found that mixing students from different schools, holding the trials in a courthouse, and taping the proceedings tended to cause the students to work just a little harder and to be just a little better prepared. Over the years it became an honor to be selected for a role in the trial. The biggest problem was getting very busy students to show up for appointments with their coaches. Today, more can be done by e-mail.
Following the event, I not only wrote thank you letters to the students, I also wrote letters to the principal about each student and asked that it be put in his or her permanent record. Even if that did not happen, the kids got some extra points with the principal.

All in all it was a very positive experience for both the students and the adults involved. It was definitely educational. Several participants have actually gone on to study law. I was very disappointed to have to give up the program when I took a different job within the library.

I will be more than willing to answer any questions that you might have or work with you to plan a mock trial of your own. This is just a model to help you to get started. It could be done as a class project, as a school assembly, in a courtroom or in a library with an attorney sitting as judge. (But s/he must wear a robe) As long as the scenario is one that will resonate with teens and the students are properly prepared, I think you will f
ind that the experience will exceed your expectations.

Anne B. Prusha, Marketing and Communications Officer
Geauga County Public Library
12701 Ravenood Dr.
Chardon, OH 44024

440-286-7419 fax
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