Mock trial teams compete in nationwide tournaments, facing off against other colleges and universities across the country. During the fall season, schools host invitational tournaments to test out new strategies and train for the spring season. In the spring, the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) hosts an annual three-part tournament. In January and February, teams compete at Regionals for coveted bids to the Opening Round Championship Series, to be held in March. There, top teams from around the country vie for one of 48 spots at the National Championship Tournament, the culmination of the year's competition.
During tournaments, teams compete in four trials: twice on one side of the case, and twice on the other. Each trial is a match-up against a new opponent, opening up the potential to see - and employ - completely different witnesses, evidence, and case strategies. The competition is judged and scored as teams try to win ballots, rounds, and, ultimately, tournament trophies. There are also opportunities for individual recognition.
During competition, students take on one of two roles: attorney and witness. As attorneys, students present opening statements and closing arguments, make objections, and examine friendly and hostile witnesses. As witnesses, students portray characters, craft a compelling narrative to persuade the jury, and confront the opposition on cross examination. On each team, three attorney-witness pairs work together to put on a case - and to spin or rebut the other side's story.
But mock trial features incredible elements of surprise. In a typical case problem, a dozen different potential witnesses will be characters in the story. Each team, however, will only call three witnesses in court. So before each round, teams meet to draft pick their witnesses from the lineup - meaning that last-minute changes and unexpected strategies are pervasive.
Each year, AMTA releases a new case problem - or two - which over 500 teams throughout the country use to cast witnesses, organize evidence, and craft arguments. Annual case problems alternate between criminal law and civil law topics. Over the past few years, we've seen cases like:
- State v. Jordan Ryder (2019, Criminal): Parker Paige is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. A tragic accident or murdered by her own mother?
- Park v. Duran (2014, Civil): When a family gun gets into the hands of children, a game becomes deadly. Should someone have done more to prevent the shooting, or was this all just a tragic mistake?
- State of Midlands v. Whit Bowman (2013, Criminal): Cameron Poole robs an amusement park and makes off with the cash. His buddy, Whit Bowman, is placed under arrest. Were the two in cahoots, or do the police have the wrong suspect?
- Allen v. Neptune Underwater Expeditions (2012, Civil): Lee and Andy Allen sign up to explore an underwater shipwreck with a recreational diving company. Only one of them survives. The story changes depending on who you ask: the dive instructor, the Coast Guard, or even the weatherman.
- State of Midlands v. Danny Dawson (2011, Criminal): When Vanessa Sullivan goes out to a bar to celebrate her twenty-first birthday, she has no idea it will be her last. Vanessa dies in a car crash that night, with Danny Dawson behind the wheel. But is it murder?
- Davis v. Happy Land Toy Company (2010, Civil): Two-year-old Joey Davis dies after swallowing toy beads. When his parent sues the bead company, who will be found responsible for his death? Witnesses include a careless babysitter, a CEO who sends suspicious emails, and an investigative journalist with questionable ethics.
Sound like Fun?
If you're ready to take a side and try winning a case, then mock trial is for you. We're forming teams for the upcoming season - join us.