Skip to Content

What is Mock Trial?

What is Mock Trial?

Mock Trial is a competition in which students simulate a real trial. The trial concerns an official AMTA case that remains the same through the entire academic year. The case alternates between a civil and a criminal case every year. The case is entirely fictional, taking place in the fictional state of Midlands. Teams consist of six to ten members, but only six compete at any given time - 3 attorneys and 3 witnesses. These six people will go against six other people from a different university. Teams must prepare both sides of the case (prosecution/plaintiff and defense) for every competition. This means that any given person could have two roles: one for each side of the case. 

Who/What is AMTA?

The American Mock Trial Association ("AMTA") sponsors regional and national-level competitions, writes and distributes case packets and rules, and keeps a registry of Mock Trial competitors and alumni. The case packet is generally written and distributed prior to the scholastic year in August, and case changes are made throughout the season, usually in September, December, and finally in February after Regional competitions and prior to the Opening Round of Championships. Approximately 600 teams from over 350 universities and colleges will compete in AMTA tournaments. In total, AMTA provides a forum for over 5,300 undergraduate students each academic year to engage in Intercollegiate Mock Trial competitions across the country.

What are Tournaments Like?

At each tournament, there are four rounds. In each round you perform only one side of your case, meaning you will act as prosecution/plaintiff or defense. A trial consists of opening statements, direct examinations, cross-examinations, and closing statements. Since each team provides three witnesses in a round, a total of six witnesses will be presented in each round of competition, each requiring a direct examination (by an attorney on their team) and a cross-examination (by an attorney from the opposing team). All of these are prepared prior to trial. In addition, attorneys must also learn how to object using the Midlands Rules of Evidence, which is based on the Federal Rules of Evidence. During rounds, the judges score attorneys and witnesses on a scale of 1 to 10. The team that has the most points at the end of a round wins that round. At the end of four rounds, scores are tabulated and the winners are announced. During the competition, every team will present twice as the prosecution/plaintiff and twice as the defense. Additionally, rounds are given a three-hour limit, after which the team enters "All Loss" and the ballots from the round are voided.

On the intercollegiate circuit, a mock trial team consists of three attorneys and three witnesses on each side of the case (plaintiff/prosecution and defense). The attorneys are responsible for delivering an opening statement, conducting direct and cross examinations of witnesses and delivering closing arguments. Witnesses are selected in a sports draft format from a pool of approximately eight to ten available witnesses prior to the round. Typical draft orders are DPDPDP, PPPDDD, or DDPPPD but this may vary substantially between cases. Witnesses may be available only to the plaintiff/prosecution, only to the defense, or to both sides of the case. Witnesses consist of both experts as well as lay witnesses. Judges are usually attorneys or coaches, and on some occasions, practicing judges.

All collegiate mock trial cases take place in the fictional state of Midlands, USA. Midlands is not geographically situated and falls under the protection of the United States Constitution. It has its own Rules of Evidence and case law.

What Happens During Tournament Season?

'Tournament Season' begins in August when the case packet is released by AMTA. From October to January, universities host their own competitions called 'invitationals'. These are not officially sponsored by AMTA, however, they are listed on AMTA's website and are a great opportunity for teams to practice before the Regional competition. Invitationals are fantastic for testing out case theories and team line-ups without the pressure of Regionals. Depending on the region, teams compete in either January or February in an official, AMTA sponsored tournament. Here, six teams are ranked and are awarded advancement to the Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS). Making it to ORCS qualifies a team to be in the top third of all mock trial teams in the nation. If a team makes it out of ORCS, they advance to the National Championships, where teams battle it out for the first place title. There are typically more than 600 teams spread across 24 regional tournaments. Each school is limited to two post-regional bids to the Opening Round Championship Series. Though there were once direct bids from Regionals to the National Championship Tournament, these bids no longer exist. 192 teams advance to the Opening Round Championship, which is held at eight different tournament sites. The top teams at each Opening Round Championship Tournament qualify for the National Championship Tournament. There are 48 total bids to the final tournament.

How is Mock Trial Different from Real Court?

While Mock Trial tournaments teach real courtroom skills, there are some differences. First, since compete with the same case packet multiple times, a majority of our trial is rehearsed. This is very different from a real court since we aren't dealing with real witnesses who may remember or change things at the last minute. We are also limited to some of the arguments and motions we can make. For instance, we are not allowed to ask for a dismissal at the end of the prosecution/plaintiff case in chief, and we are not allowed to undergo pre-trial motions (they are, however, provided for us in the case packet with a fictitious ruling from a previous judge).