Mock Trial competes in first competition

Mercyhurst’s mock trial team competed in its first regional competition on Feb. 14 and 15 against various universities in Pittsburgh.

The team competed against Susquehanna University, Dickinson College, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, and California University of Pennsylvania. The team was eliminated after facing off with Dickinson College, which competed in the national tournament in 2012.

“This is the first year that Mercyhurst University is a registered school with the national American Mock Trial Association (AMTA),” Maria Garase, Ph.D., a professor in the Criminal Justice department and advisor for the team, said.

A mock trial is a re-enactment of a court of law and all of its components from the lawyers and witnesses to the jury and judge. Mercyhurst’s mock trial team is made up of a group of students who argue their side for the main goal of winning the case in the courtroom.

The team currently has ten members who are divided into groups to study and present their elements of the case to the judge.

At competitions, the judges are usually made up of persons who are already in the law field such as lawyers, detectives or judges; all of who will be determining how well the teams perform. The team is judged based on a series of criteria including courtroom etiquette, knowledge of the law, preparation, and research done on the subject.

Mercyhurst’s team was created in 2014 and has since spent the time organizing and preparing for their first competition. Mock trial, while exposing students to the vocabulary and procedures of the courtroom, also gives students a chance to gain skills applicable to any profession.

“A Mock trial is an excellent way for students to take information they learned in the classroom and apply it to a real case. It gives students the chance to see and feel what it is like to build a case from the available case documents, construct a solid argument, prepare the witnesses, and present the case in a pervasive way to the ‘judge’,” Garase said.

This year’s case was a civil suit involving an 11-year old boy shooting his friend of the same age. The respective teams had to decide whether to pursue the case as an intentional shooting or a case of negligent parenting. Mercyhurst fielded both a prosecution and defense team.

In August, the mock trial team was assigned their ‘case’ and planned and built their approach with all the knowledge acquired for their case.

“We cannot use the internet at all to research our facts; we can however, have our coaches give us tips and pointers,” said Alicia Harrison, a junior criminal justice major and president of the team. “Our team was fortunate to have Erin Connelly, an attorney from the DA’s office to come and coach us on our strategies, in addition to our advisor Maria Garase.”
Colleges and universities are invited to participate in invitational and regional tournaments within their areas.

“At the regional tournament, teams participate in four rounds over a two day period and earn points,” Garase said.

The teams with the highest points earn ballots to move forward in the competition. The eight teams with the most ballots advance. Teams advance based on their overall performance, but individual students are also capable of earning honors at the competitions.

“Students can also be awarded for individual performances which heightens the competitive aspect. It can get very intense,” Cooper said..

The team invites students of all backgrounds and majors to join.

“All majors are welcome to join” said Nick Cooper, a junior Russian studies major. “We are always looking for people to bring their individualized uniqueness to the team.”

For the fall, the Criminal Justice Department will be offering a three credit class, taught by a trial attorney that will prepare students for the next Mock Trial competition.