St. John’s hosted the Atlantic Regional section of the American Mock Trial Association competition for the fourth year in a row on the weekend of Feb. 17. Twenty-six teams from universities and colleges in the New York area came to the St. John’s campus to compete against one another in one of the most prestigious competitions held for undergraduates.
The St. John’s team consists of 10 undergraduate students from various fields of study, including government and politics, law, philosophy and accounting.
Nothing about the trial is scripted. Each team is given a basic outline of materials and facts about the court cases and evidence. Each team has to come to their own conclusions about the few things that the AMTA gives them. They must make their own opening and closing statements, come up with their own interrogation and cross examination questions, and prepare their own witnesses as if this were a an actual court case.
Although Columbia and New York Universities took home a majority of the awards, St. John’s still has plenty to be proud of.
“Excellently done,” said one judge, following the first round of competition for St. John’s. “You kept your character. You [the attorneys] didn’t have to refer to your notes. Impressive.”
By the end of the fourth round, many of the judges were complimenting the University’s mock trial team.
“All of you were as good as, if not better than, the attorneys who appear to me on a daily basis,” said attorney Alvin Yearwood.
Members of the mock trial competitions put together everything that the students learn about law throughout the year. The competitions are learning experiences, not only for those interested in the field of law but for public speaking skills as well.
“It’s fun and it has social and academic advantages,” said team member Ashley Meadows. “It enhances your public speaking skills, your terminology and your presentation skills.”
University Provost Dr. Julia Upton agreed.
“It is a good experience and education in law and how things are carried out and acting,” Upton said, “because each person has to act [out their role] and others have to respond to it.”
Hamel Rathod won the Outstanding Witness Award and Kudakwashe Chibanda and John Cronin received Outstanding Attorney Awards. St. John’s was also granted a spot in the Mock Trial National Competitions in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The mock trial competitions were started in 1985. The program was created in order to give students a chance to gain first-hand experience of the work of trial attorneys, understand the structure of the judicial system, and develop critical thinking skills.
If the team wins the competition in St. Petersburg, they will go on to compete in the championship trial in Des Moine, Iowa.