Education Matters: Mock Trial in Fresno County

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. - The intensity could match that in any courtroom, but these are students presenting their case before a real judge – in a real courtroom.

And the students your are watching are the two top teams in Fresno County.

“Mock trial is a high school competition where teams play as real attorneys and witnesses and they present a cast at our superior court,” said Elaine Sotiropulos with the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools office.

These two teams made it all the way to the final competition and for the winner, it was like winning the Super Bowl.

For students who participate in mock trial, the work begins in September

All schools get the same case issued by the constitutional rights foundation – a statewide organization. The case to be tried: The People vs. Awbrey. The charges: human trafficking and false imprisonment.

Kevin Peterson, coach of the Clovis High School mock trial team said his students come into this knowing it’s going to be hard work.

“They are driven; they know what is expected of them. They know they are going to have to memorize and memorize,” Peterson said.

Students take on the roles of defense and prosecuting attorneys, witnesses – also playing the defendant and the plaintiff or victim.

This is Alexis Allred’s third year in mock trial, and she said she believes all students should give it a try.

“You don’t necessarily have to be outgoing and love public speaking. I mean we have a timekeeper; we have a bailiff, and we have a clerk. And we need every one of those people to make our case run and be efficient and effective in arguing our case,” Allred said.

The students spend hours – morning and night – prepping for their big day in court. They’re mentored by practicing attorneys, and in the case of students on Bullard High School’s, team they have a real courtroom right on campus for practices.

“I always say practice like you're going to play, and the environment and the ambiance really helps to sort of set that stage for them to do that as well. So that helps,” said Malisa Ervin, Bullard mock trial coach.”

They spend almost an entire year getting ready for the courtroom competition where they will be scored on how well they present the case by attorneys and the judge. But think about what they are learning in the process.

“How well can you analyze material that’s given to you? How well can you think on your feet?” Sotiropulos said. “It’s also standing up and presenting yourself confidently those are real world skills that our kids needs.”

For the students, it’s just like competing on the basketball ball court.

It’s helped many of them find their voice – their place.

“Nothing is better than going up and talking in front of a bunch of people and expressing emotion and beliefs,” said mike markarian, who is on Bullard’s mock trial team. “Like there is a theatric yet intelligent response that you give, and as one attorney taught me earlier, every movement you make up there means something. Make it mean everything.”

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