How Does a Mock Trial Work?
Mock trials are simulated court trials that use court procedure and law in order to come up with a non-binding, pretend verdict. Mock trials are not only used by schools and colleges to educate students, but by professionals to predict and craft legal cases for actual deliberation.
Mock trials don't always have to follow tight procedural guidelines. For classroom study, teachers and students can make up evidence and rules. Lawyers, however, attempt to make a mock trial as real as possible in order to gauge their chances for victory.
Scholastic and Collegiate Mock Trials
Academic mock trials are based on any number of events. Students often select a classroom dispute, real-life criminal matter or historical trial to deliberate. Court officers, attorneys, witnesses, a judge and bailiff are selected by popular vote.
After the class or teacher decides on procedure and evidence, the court case commences. Along the way, the instructor may use moments to show the students the ins and outs of the judicial system. Cases with juries may involve jury instructions. There are direct and cross-examinations, and both attorneys must deliver closing arguments. At the end, the judge or jury deliver their verdict.
Mock trials can be a lot of fun or can be very serious matters. At any rate they often begin serious discussion about the merits and drawbacks of the American legal system. At the competitive level there may actually be prizes and scholarships for award-winning classes.
Professional Mock Trials
For actual court cases, mock trials prove handy but expensive. According to Slate columnist Daniel Engber, a typical mock trial may cost upwards of $40,000 and involve actors, additional counsel and subterfuge.
Lawyers begin by hiring jurors for sums ranging from "$100 or $200 dollars a day ... [jurors] must sign confidentiality agreements." The litigation team then presents their case to the assembled group. However, real-life witnesses and testimony are often absent, since "there is a danger that anything said in a mock trial (or even the fact that a witness participated) might emerge in a real courtroom."
During the jury deliberations, the mock jury room is monitored and discussions taped in order to figure out the case's strengths and weaknesses. The jurors never know who's hired or paid them, and they often don't even know who the actual lawyers are. Things are handled with great solemnity in order to get the truest reactions possible.
Of course, mock trials can be completely misleading. In the case of bomber Eric Rudolph, mock jurors acquitted him of his crimes three times out of four. His counsel was less than thrilled when he received two life sentences for his bombing activities.
- Photo Credit 2006 Joe Gratz / Creative Commons
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