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Competitive Mock Trial
Each year, a national case is released to AMTA member schools. The type of case alternates annually between a criminal and civil case. The case packet typically includes a case summary and the civil case law (usually a definition of civil negligence) or the applicable penal code (if the case is a criminal case). There may also be a series of issues agreed to by opposing counsel. These are known as stipulations. The case also includes Exhibits and affidavits relevant to the case. Among these documents, it would be common to see ballistic tests, blood tests, photographs, police reports, witness statements, contacts, medical records, phone records, and video or telephone recordings, depending on the case being tried.
Under current AMTA rules, a mock trial team consists of between six and a maximum of ten members. Each team will prepare both sides of the case: prosecution and defense in a criminal trial, plaintiff and defense in a civil action. Each side is composed of three attorneys and three witnesses, all played by members of the team. Therefore, the team's members must be organized into two teams of six for the prosecution/plaintiff and defense sides. Some attorneys will compete on both sides of the case; other attorneys will just do one side.
Tournaments have four trials, with each team trying the case twice as plaintiff or prosecuting team and twice as the defense team. AMTA tries to present cases that are evenly balanced. It is not uncommon for a new witness or new evidence to be a part of the cases tried after the regional tournaments have been held. This often rebalances the cases and provides a new set of challenges for students. In many cases, there is some form of a problem with the evidence itself and whether or not it will be admitted into evidence. Other times a witness may have some form of bias or perhaps has a history of lying or a perjury conviction or a falsified resume, which may be exploited by the other counsel. Teams must weigh the benefit of the evidence in light of a potential problem that opposing counsel may inflict if they are successful in impeaching the credibility of the witness. Strategy plays an important role in trying these cases and students learn over time what works (or might not work) and they may alter trial strategies as the regional tournament nears. Students must be very familiar with the many available objections, in particular, those involving the complex hearsay rules and exceptions.
The fall is used to practice trying the case. Schools all over the country will compete in invitational tournaments. Winning in the fall builds confidence and allows an opportunity for students to learn and practice their trial presentations. Coaches get to see which students work well together and are coachable, and who can be counted on to present a case under pressure. The invitational season is analogous to the long preseason as in an athletic sport. The AMTA trial season starts in February, with a series of about 20 regional tournaments around the country. Teams which finish in the top third advance to what is now called the Opening Championship Round (OCR). The top teams for the OCR advance to the National Tournament. Approximately 1000 teams compete during the year preparing for the regional qualifiers with about 600 teams entering regional tournaments. The goal of participating in invitationals is to prepare the team to present a winning case when it counts in the AMTA tournaments.