In the United States, there are 94 district courts, 13 circuit courts, and one supreme court. However, the inner workings of these courts are not well known to the general public. For years, mock trial has been giving students and spectators alike a first-hand experience of a courtroom. On February 27 and 28, 2018, three Urbandale teams competed in the regional mock trial competition for a chance to make it to state. The lead attorney of SUITS, one of
Urbandale’s teams, recently gave his thoughts on the competition. Noah Hoffman, a member of the team for seven years, helped his team qualified for state.
“Mock trial is a competition between two teams in a simulated courtroom setting. Each team consists of four attorneys and three witnesses,” says Hoffman. “The attorneys all sit at a table together, with each team on opposite sides of the room while facing the judges at the front. The trials can last anywhere from two to four hours. Instead of winning based off a guilty or not guilty verdict, winning is based off of a point total. Attorneys and witnesses get scored off a scale of ten everytime they present an opening statement, closing argument, or a witness examination. The final score is then out of 150.”
Each year, mock trial tournaments are broken up into three separate competitions, regionals, state, and nationals. “We just had the Des Moines regional tournament, where over 100 teams competed. Each team gets two trials, and at the end of the day the teams that won both move on to the next round. Then, all of the team that won once and lost one are awarded places based on their point total. The next day includes the playoff round, which is only a thing in Des Moines. The playoff consists of one match, where the victor goes straight to the state tournament.”
Just qualifying for state isn’t enough for Hoffman, however. He, and the rest of SUITS, want to aim high. “The state tournament is held in late March. It incorporates teams from across the state. The top teams from each region meets at the Iowa Events Center. The actual tournament is similar to the NCAA Basketball tournament. It starts out with a large bracket which slowly narrows down to a final four. The winner of the entire tournament ends up representing Iowa at the national tournament.”
Despite qualifying for state, Hoffman stresses that this year’s regional tournament was not perfect. “There were some interesting rules made by a certain judge we had. He made a lot of rulings that impacted the case more than they should have. Generally judges shouldn’t play an active role in how a trial progresses, but we had multiple judges who inserted themselves into the case. This hurt us because we include a lot of evidence, and a judge must make a rule on it admissibility. This particular judge was very fond of excluding evidence, regardless of what arguments were made. This impacted the rest of our case as we had to move around our presentation based on what was allowed.”
On March 26, 27, and 28, 2018, SUITS and VERITAS, another Urbandale team, will compete to represent Iowa at the national tournament later in the year. Months of practice and years of experience will culminate in one chance to prove themselves as some of the best in the country, and they are already halfway there.