California Mock Trial Q&A With Luke Ellis In the past decade coaching mock trial for Miramonte High School, GJEL partner Luke Ellis has helped his team win eight Contra Costa County titles and has learned a great deal from his students along the way. In the Q&A below, Luke talks about his personal history, goal…Read More
Every year, the Constitutional Rights Foundation sponsors Contra Costa County’s Mock Trial Program for high school students. In the late 1990s, GJEL partner Luke Ellis took an active interest in the program when he began coaching Miramonte High School’s Mock Trial team. In the last decade, Luke’s teams have had enormous success, winning the Contra Costa County title eight times, including the past three consecutive years.
At the risk of giving away the “secrets for success,” Luke has compiled a primer on mock trial rules, effective strategies, and other important resources for aspiring California mock trial participants.
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Mock Trial Overview
In California, as in many other states across the country, high school mock trial is serious business. Mock trial teams hit the ground running right at the beginning of the school year, equipped with a case brief on which to base their arguments and a coach to help organize strategy and determine which role each student will play both on the prosecution and defense sides of the criminal trial. Student roles include trial attorneys, pretrial motion attorneys, witnesses, clerks, and bailiffs. Their arguments are heard by real-live judges who volunteer their time for mock trial.
Some schools devote an entire constitutional law class to mock trial, enabling students to couple their academic pursuits with courtroom experience. Others treat mock trial as an extracurricular activity, meeting after school a couple times a week, just like an athletic program.
Also like athletics, mock trial teams from each school compete to show off their knowledge of legal procedure and understanding of the case brief. Students are trained to question witnesses, make objections, and interact with real judges, among other skills. The best teams on the county level move on to face a larger field of challengers on the state level.
Students dedicate a large portion of their time to mock trial. Students who participate on Luke’s team, pictured below, are immersed with the case brief from September through March, and many even receive credit on their transcripts for the hours spent on the mock trial team. Clearly, due to Miramonte’s success over the past decade, that hard work frequently pays off.