Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

Having earned a trophy at the American Mock Trial Association’s Silver Flight national tournament this month, Lafayette’s mock trial program has achieved excellence in just four years of existence.

Students believe strongly in the benefits of participation, as reflected by their comments at the end of the 2002-2003 season:

  • Seanna Dyer ’03: “Since I’m interested in going to law school, Mock Trial gives me good practice. You get into different areas of law and learn what they are like. Mock trial has helped develop my public speaking skills and taught me how to approach arguments. I’ve had an opportunity to work with a lot of students and some really great professors.
  • William Simmons ’04: “The people on our team make it fun and interesting. We work really well together.”
  • Dyan Argento ’05: “Mock Trial is a great opportunity for anyone hoping to improve their people-skills. It helps you think on your feet and think critically.”
  • Alex Kharaza ’06: “It is the best program if you want to go into the legal profession.”
  • Jonathan Glick ’05: “Mock Trial is a great experience. It offers an opportunity for performance, practice, and preparation for students interested in pursuing a legal career. Mock Trial helps to develop skills that are needed in everyday life.”
  • John Raymond ’05: “My experiences with Mock Trial have definitely helped me look at things more critically. I ask more questions than I used to. It has also given me a great opportunity to get off campus and travel.”
  • Adrienne Stark ’04: “Besides being a great opportunity to expand intellectual and oratory skills, mock trial has also been a great social outlet. Team dinners, four-hour bus rides to Western Pennsylvania, and anxiously waiting in a small plane in Dubuque in a blizzard have strengthened our cohesiveness and ability to work together.” (Stark studied abroad last semester and reflected upon the team’s experiences last year.)

Every year, teams of six to eight students assign three of their members to be plaintiff/ prosecution attorneys and three to be defense attorneys. Each side then selects three witnesses from approximately a dozen who they believe will best assist their case. The witnesses each have an affidavit that forms the basis of their testimony. Expert witnesses also have reports, physical evidence, and diagrams. Rarely can the case be made with just three witnesses, but the holes in the case allow students to experiment with different combinations of witnesses and different theories of the case. It also allows them to be innovative in their approach and gives them flexibility in their witness selection.

The judges fill out ballots, scoring each witness and attorney on each part of the case. The scoring is not based upon whether the team wins the case on the merits. Teams can lose the case and still win the round.

Attorneys are judged on their ability to obtain relevant information that is crucial to support their case and to make their witnesses appear credible, while making opposing witnesses appear untrustworthy and unreliable. This is accomplished through direct examination of their witnesses and cross-examination of opposing witnesses. Attorneys are also scored on their ability to make timely and relevant objections, respond using arguments based upon evidentiary laws, react appropriately to adverse rulings by the judges, and use case law as precedent for their arguments. Finally, they are judged on how well they present their opening and closing statements: Are they telling an interesting story? Are they relying on notes? Do they know the law? Have they presented a consistent theme? Does the closing pick up the important testimony presented during the trial and the specific points made in the opening?

Witnesses are judged on their ability to handle questioning by both plaintiff and defense attorneys, to stay in character, and to be reticent to answer questions that their character would not want to answer, without being combative or obstructionist. To be credible, expert witnesses need to be knowledgeable in their area of expertise. This requires educating themselves beyond their affidavit. For example, this year’s students needed to be experts in accident reconstruction, automotive mechanics, autopsies, anatomy and epilepsy.

The following is the opening statement used by Natalie Kamphaus ‘05 as the plaintiffs’ attorney in this year’s mock trial case, Andi & Lee Smith v. J.J. Thompson:

“It was a snowy February night in State Center, Midlands. A perfect night for the winter carnival held annually in the quiet suburb of Hickory Park. The children played games and ate pizza. But the main event was the snowball fight and as we all know, ‘the wonderful thing about snowball fights are that they are fun and nobody ever gets hurt.’ Or so the parents of the children of Hickory Park believed. On February 8, 2002, the children were playing and laughing and enjoying tossing snowballs at one another when Andi Smith noticed a dark Jeep Grand Cherokee speeding past the Park and that her 8-year-old son, Derric, was missing. As the vehicle passed she saw Derric lying on the ground, bleeding and shaking. An ambulance was called and transported Derric to the hospital where he was pronounced DOA. The doctors agreed that it was most likely the injuries to the back of the head that caused Derric’s death.”

The questions raised by this case revolve around what caused, and who was responsible for, the injuries that killed young Derric. Did a car strike Derric? Did Derric run into the street and have one of his seizures, causing him to fall to the ground and repeatedly bang the back of his head against the road? How long had Derric been in the street? If the injuries were caused by a vehicle, was it the vehicle identified by Andi Smith? No one saw the driver. Was the vehicle’s driver negligent e.g. drunk, reckless or speeding? How long had Derric been in the street? Would Derric still be alive today if his parents had made sure that he did not exert himself or made him wear a helmet, as directed by his physician? Did Officer Ryanne Stanfield pull over the person who was seen driving through Hickory Park?

Officer Stanfield was supposed to stand guard at the entrance to the park area to stop speeders, but chose instead to leave her post because there was a more exciting gun battle occurring on the other side of town. When she heard the dispatch about the alleged hit-and-run, she knew that she would have a lot of explaining to do. She pulled over the first vehicle she saw that fit the description. The car was a black Jeep Grand Cherokee and the driver was JJ Thompson. Was the vehicle seen driving by Hickory Park in fact a Jeep Grand Cherokee, or was it a Jeep Cherokee like the one described by Carter Palmer, a friend and neighbor of the Smiths, the co-chair of the winter carnival, and a witness to the events of Feb. 8?

Categorized in: Academic News