By: Veronica Henderson, Attorney
Now that the holidays are over, many of our high school students are getting ready for the annual Mock Trial Competition, which begins on January 24th, and concludes on February 15th.
The Mock Trial Competition is a nationwide contest whereby high school students play the role of attorneys and witnesses, and simulate a criminal trial, from start to finish, including arguing a pre-trial motion, prosecuting the defendant, and defending the student playing the role of the defendant. Actual judges from Imperial County and the San Diego Federal Courts preside over the trials, and rule on objections, the admissibility of evidence, and other court-related procedures.
Students audition for their roles at their individual high schools in Calexico, Brawley, El Centro, and sometimes other valley locations. Some of these students reside in Mexico but attend school in the Imperial Valley due to their bi-national status. The students work diligently; many start practicing when the materials are released in early Fall from the Constitutional Rights Foundation, which is the national organization that sponsors the event and creates the case materials.
The students are assisted by “teacher coaches,” who are usually teachers from the schools who have volunteered to work with the students after school, provide a place to practice, and submit the necessary paperwork. There are also “attorney coaches” who are local attorneys and judges that work with the students in the evenings to teach them about the law as it pertains to the criminal case that the students are working on, as well as offer suggestions on how to be a prosecutor, defense attorney, or witness. Other attorneys from the community volunteer to serve as scoring attorneys, and ultimately decide the winner of the local mock trial competition. The winning high school of the local competition is then invited to participate in regional competitions and may even have the opportunity to compete statewide or nationally. In years past, Imperial Valley high schools have excelled in regional and statewide competitions.
The value of the mock trial experience to these students is high. Students learn public speaking skills, analytical skills, and teamwork. Many of these students develop a real interest in the law from their experiences participating in mock trial and later become attorneys. There is also a great value to local attorneys, who can brush up on their own trial skills while helping these students.
The competitions will be on January 24, January 26, January 31, February 2, February 6, February 9, and the finals round is on February 15. The trials are at 6:00 pm at the Main Courthouse at 939 W. Main Street in El Centro. The public is urged to come out to watch these exciting competitions and cheer on our local students.