Mock Trial competition hones communication skills
Students part of Mock Trial at Bellefonte Area High School were part of a competition, also known as a trial, this winter that proved they’re among the best locally. During the pandemic, trials were virtual, but are still presided by a currently practicing judge and jury of professional attorneys. Pre-pandemic, trials were held in local county courtrooms. “Mock trials are a great opportunity for good sportsmanship,” teacher and club adviser Matt Maris said. “Students gain a lot of communication skills and experience that will help them in the future.”
This year’s case included a criminal trial involving a murder where students took on the roles of defense attorney and prosecutor to argue their cases “beyond a reasonable doubt,” he added. Other students participating represented Bald Eagle, DuBois, Montoursville, Punxsutawney and State College area high schools. Four Bellefonte Area students walked away with best attorney and best witness awards. “Students who compete in mock trials are given best witness and best attorney awards by the opposing team,” Maris said. “It’s a nice tradition where the opposing team votes and gives the award.”
To prepare for trials, the club meets weekly to review case materials such as witness statements and evidence exhibits. Student attorneys collaborate and plan questions for direct and cross examinations of witnesses, and the witnesses read and memorize their statements, so they can answer any questions asked by counsel. Maris added that students must also need to know the rules of evidence and other procedures such as how to object, examine witnesses, make opening and closing statements, and how to address the judge and jury. “They are essentially doing everything that real-world attorneys (and) witnesses would do in court,” he said.