CS 306 Team Project:  Mock Trial


For this assignment, you will be presenting your assigned side of your chosen topic before the class in a mock trial.  The aim of the trial is to persuade the judge (your instructor) and the juries (your class) of the validity of your position, as opposed to your opponent's position.

To present your position, you must question your witnesses in order to get the "facts" of the situation before the CS 306 Court.  Once both sides have had an opportunity to present and question their witnesses, and to cross-examine the opposing witnesses, each side will present a closing argument in which they may offer their most convincing arguments as to why their side should "win" the trial.  When examining witnesses, all students must follow the the GMU Rules of Evidence, which can be found here.

Client/Witness Role-playing:

As part of the mock trial, each student will be assigned to play the role of a witness or client for a trial in which they are not involved as counsel.  Witness roles will be posted simultaneously with mock trial assignments. Witness statements will be available on Blackboard under the subdirectory for the trial in question.  Only the students selected to play a particular role will have access to the witness statement for that role.  Students are expected to keep the details of their roles secret until interviewed by the "lawyers" assigned to their side of the case.  Clients and witnesses should not speak to the opposing side about their roles.  Students should also be careful not to reveal all the information in their fact sheets unless it would be appropriate to do so in real life.  (In other words, if your witness statement says that you are hesitant to reveal something you saw, you should wait until your lawyer draws it out of you before you reveal it.  This may mean it does not come out at all ... or that it comes out at trial as a surprise!  Do not deliberately try to make life difficult for your counsel, but do not simply throw them the information either.  Try to keep in character as much as possible.)

Pre-Trial Preparation Assignments:

Each team will complete several written assignments to help you conduct the research and  prepare for trial.  (See Blackboard for specific assignments and instructions.)  The most significant of these assignments will be Trial Prep 1 and 2.  Trial Prep 1 focuses on using critical thinking skills to map the information you obtain from your witnesses to the legal elements you must prove at trial, and to evaluate the strength of your case.  Trial Prep 2 requires you to explain how you will use your legal, factual and evidentiary resources to support your trial arguments, and helps you apply critical thinking to assess how you may be able to gain appropriate evidence from your opponent's witnesses using cross-examination questions.  A bulleted list of the final arguments you have chosen for trial, together with a list of your relevant sources and links to any on-line citations, must be emailed to your instructor and to both members of the opposing mock trial team at least two days before your scheduled Mock Trial date. 

Team and Topic Assignments:   

The final list of trial teams, topic and witness assignments, and trial dates will be posted on Blackboard, together with appropriate student email addresses, as early in the semester as possible -- generally at least 3 weeks prior to the start of Mock Trial presentations.

Outline of Trial Proceedings:

The following outline will give you information about how to organize your trial, and the approximate times for each portion.  Please note that the time limits for opening statements and closing arguments will be rather strictly enforced.  However, time limits for direct and cross-examinations, due to their nature, are understood to be in part beyond your control, and therefore latitude will be exercised.  If you are exceeding your allotted time, the judge will indicate this by stating that you should "move along" with your examination ... this will notify you that you need to wrap up as soon as possible.  Important Note:  Failure to properly wrap up when reminded by the judge will result in loss of points in your grade!

Each trial will involve opening and closing statements and direct/cross of the client and witness for each side.  One student on each team should plan to give the Opening Statement, while the other student gives the Closing statement.  While teams may prepare jointly (and confer briefly during questioning), each student will individually conduct both a direct examination (of either client or friendly witness) and cross-examination of the client or witness for the opposing side.

Here is a specific outline of how each trial will proceed:

I.    Opening Statements
        A. One member of Plaintiff counsel's team   (3 minutes max.)
        B. One member of Defense counsel's team    (3 minutes max.)

II.    Plaintiff's Case  (up to 12 minutes maximum)

        A.  Direct examination of client (by plaintiff's counsel)    (3 min.)
        B.  Cross-Examination of plaintiff (by defense counsel)    (2 min.)
        C.  (Optional) Redirect Examination of client (by plaintiff's counsel)    (1 min.)

        D.  Direct examination of plaintiff's friendly witness  (by plaintiff's counsel)  (3 min.)
        E.  Cross-Examination of plaintiff's friendly witness (by defense counsel)    (2 min.)
        F.  (Optional)  Redirect Examination of plaintiff's friendly witness (by plaintiff's counsel)   (1 min.)

III.    Defendant's Case (up to 12 minutes maximum)

        A.  Direct examination of client (by defense counsel)    (3 min.)
        B.  Cross-Examination of defendant (by plaintiff's counsel)    (2 min.)
        C.  (Optional) Redirect Examination of client (by defense counsel)    (1 min.)

        D.  Direct examination of defendant's friendly witness    (3 min.)
        E.  Cross-Examination of defendant's friendly witness    (2 min.)
        F.  (Optional)  Redirect Examination of defendant's friendly witness  (1 min.)

IV.    Closing Arguments

        A.    Plaintiff's counsel (who did not present Opening)   (3 minutes max. -- due to rebuttal time)
        B.    Defense counsel (who did not present Opening)    (4 minutes max.)
        C.    (Optional) Rebuttal by plaintiff's counsel    (1 minute max.)

Approx. Total Trial Time:   35-38 minutes maximum

After the trial, each jury will be permitted 3-5 minutes to prepare their final verdicts.  These will then be
presented to the class, time permitting, or handed in, if time is short.  (As the trial is beginning, each jury
should prepare a page listing all jury members, the date, and the trial topic number for easy reference.
All that should be necessary during deliberation time is for the jury to come to a group decision on each
of the two questions.

There are three possible jury verdicts:
    A.    Plaintiff's verdict  (provide level or type of compensation, if appropriate)
    B.    Defense verdict
    C.    Hung jury  (note how many jurors were in each camp)

Additional Details for Trial Preparation/Explanation of Trial Requirements:

I) Opening Statements:

Your opening statement is your opportunity as counsel to inform the judge and jury about the nature of the case, the basic issues in question, and to outline what they *expect* the evidence to show at trial.  Opening statements should *not* be used to argue your case, but simply to lay out how you expect the trial to proceed, and how you expect the witnesses (both yours and opposition witnesses) to testify.  You may attempt to discredit opposing witnesses if you like, but be very  careful ... if you make statements in your opening that are not backed up by the actual evidence let in at trial, juries tend to be skeptical of your overall case.  It is usually better policy simply to present the situation you expect to be shown in court in a way that will strengthen your case in the eyes of the jury.

Conclude your opening statement by letting the jury know that at the conclusion of the case, you will be asking them to find for your client's side (by briefly stating what you hope they will determine).

II) Direct Examination:

Direct examination means that you are calling a witness that you believe has important evidence to help your side.  Because you are calling the witness, the witness is considered "friendly" to your side (whether or not your client actually has a friendly relationship with the witness).

When you examine a witness during direct examination, your questions must be open-ended in nature.  No leading of the witness is allowed!  In other words, your questions should not suggest a specific response.  Failure to observe this rule will permit opposing counsel to object to your line of questioning, as set forth in the GMU Rules of Evidence.

Some examples of acceptable direct examination questions are:

- "So, what did you do next?"
- "Did you hear anything?"
   - "What did you see as you were walking down the street?"
        (Note: This question assumes the witness has *already* testified s/he walked down the street!)

It is perfectly fine to avoid lengthy direct examination by drawing the witness' attention to a particular
non-controversial date or event, however.  Example:
    -  "Drawing your attention to approx. 5 p.m. on Nov. 7, 2002, can you tell the court what you were doing at that time?"

III) Cross-Examination:

Cross-examination is when the opposing counsel has just completed a direct examination of one of their own friendly witnesses, and you wish to obtain more details, or possibly discredit what has been said.  Because it is understood that the witness is "unfriendly" (not trying to help your side), you are allowed to lead the witness by asking questions that suggest a specific answer.  (Often, it is helpful to try to phrase your questions so that the witness only needs to answer "yes" or "no.")  However, the questions should deal only with the issues brought up during the direct examination. Again, failure to comply with this requirement could result in an objection by the opposing counsel, as explained in the GMU Rules of Evidence. The goal here is to be able to point out some flaws in the opposing team's construction of arguments and to weaken the credibility of the witness (without intimidation).

An example of a question suggesting a specific response is:
- "When you went to bed, you heard a noise in the backyard, right?"

IV) Redirect Examination:

Redirect examination is subject to the same restrictions as direct examination.  In addition, redirect examination is limited to questions regarding information that counsel questioned the witness on during cross-examination.  It should *not* be used simply to restate testimony already brought out, and it is not allowed to be used to present brand-new testimony (unrelated to prior testimony).  For this reason, it is optional, and may be quite short.  Redirect examination is sometimes used to help explain testimony brought out during cross-examination, where the witness was limited to very specific questions.

V) Closing arguments:

At this stage, the counsel provides a summary of the facts presented in the case, and how the law (and in our case, ethics) applies to the facts. This includes a reminder of why the case is in court, a summary of any helpful testimony (and sometimes an explanation of why unhelpful testimony should not be given significant weight), and a short presention of the legal and ethical arguments supportive of your side.  Closing arguments are frequently colorful and/or dramatic, so feel free to ham it up if you wish, but also remember that you don't want the jury to forget the seriousness of the matter.

The basic purpose of the closing argument is to remind the jury why the facts presented mean that you should win the case.  Accordingly, your closing should convey a firm belief in your client's position and the sufficiency of the evidence presented for your side.  You should conclude your closing by asking the jury to give you what you want (e.g. compensation for your client, a defense verdict where you are found not to be at fault, etc.).  Be specific!  The jury cannot read your mind!  Also, remember that your case is on court on *two* issues/questions -- be very sure to address *both* of them in your closing argument!

Defense closing argument also should respond to points made by plaintiff's closing argument. In other words, if you fully prepare your closing argument, and refuse to adapt to the other side's arguments, you are missing an important opportunity.  (**See strategy note, below!)

Finally, please remember that the "facts" of the case include *only* evidence actually presented in court, through the testimony of your witnesses.  Other information that may be contained in the fact pattern you used to prepare your case is NOT considered evidence unless you actually present that information in court!  Therefore, be sure that you ask questions covering any information necessary to closing argument, that you want the jury to consider in making a decision on your case.

VI)  (Optional) Rebuttal Argument by plaintiff:

Rebuttal during closing may only reference *new* points brought up by defense counsel in the closing argument.  It should not include repetition of previously stated arguments, but simply a response to arguments that you perhaps did not anticipate.  (**Strategy Note: Some plaintiff's counsel deliberately leaves out part of their closing argument in order to have the final word on an important issue.  This is a dicey strategy, however, since if defense counsel avoids that topic entirely during his/her closing, you may miss out on the chance to mention it at all!)