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Students impress with their arguing skills

November 22, 2018

It’s really what every parent shouldn’t do — allow their child to hone his or her arguing skills. Still, it’s been a delight to see our 15-year-old and her friends compete on the school’s mock trial team.

I had not been at a mock trial meet until last year when Maddie and about one-fourth of the student body of her high school joined the mock trial team.

Here’s how it works. A “case” is put together at the state level in which a person is accused of a crime. Each mock trial team gets information about the case, including facts about the suspect, names of witnesses, facts about them and also evidence gathered on the case.

There are “lawyers” on the team who study the case and write up opening and closing statements and also questions for the witnesses. There are then “witnesses”— mock trial members who also study the facts of the case and portray one of the witnesses.

The mock trial competitions are held in real courtrooms, and usually a real judge holds court with real attorneys sitting as the “jury” and judging how the teams do.

The opening statements are made by two competing mock trial teams. They’re dressed as attorneys and have papers strewn on their tables like typical attorneys. They have lots of notes because they don’t know if they’re going to be the prosecutors or the defenders when they get to the competition.

If they draw the prosecution card, the witnesses on the team take on the identity of the prosecution. If they are assigned as the defense, their witnesses now are the witnesses for the defense — completely different people.

So the witnesses have to know how to answer questions on the witness stand from the viewpoint of two different people. The attorneys have to know the holes of both the prosecution and defense so they can win the case against the opposing team, whichever side they’re on.

It’s very entertaining to watch. The mock trial attorneys give very good opening statements to the judge and jury and expertly present exhibits that will help their case. The witnesses use their acting skills to take on the personality of whichever witness they’re supposed to be. Then there’s objections and cross examination. It gets to be quite the show.

All four teams of Maddie’s high school mock trial team advanced to the next level. This week they have been practicing different defenses and accusations not knowing who they’ll be for or against. If they win the next level they’ll compete against high school teams usually much larger than theirs. At least one of their teams usually gets to the highest level of competition in the state.

If you want to learn more about how a court case works and want to see kids use their debating, acting and extemporaneous speaking skills, attend a mock trial meet. It’s such a good experience, I don’t even mind that Maddie wins all the arguments I have with her.

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