The Courtroom Comes to Marist with Mock Trial Tournament
By Makena Gera
In 2004, Terry O’Neall crashed his car into a light post on his way back to school after lunch hour. He narrowly avoided hitting a student crossing the street, but the accident left both Terry and one of his friends, Jamie, severely injured. His other friend, Nicole Anderson, was ejected from the car and later died from serious injuries sustained from the crash. O’Neall is now on trial for Criminally Negligent Homicide, or, if the prosecution sees fit, the far more severe crime of Manslaughter in the Second Degree.
O'Neall's story is a fictional one, as are the charges against him and the court case itself. However, it will feel nearly real for the Marist students participating in this year’s Marist Mock Trial Tournament.
Created by Marist student Madeline Pelagalli, an English major and president of the Marist Pre-Law Club for her Honors senior thesis project, the tournament will take place on April 28, 2018. It is open to all undergraduate students—whether in the pre-law program, interested in learning about law, or are just enticed by the idea of participating in a realistic court case.
Pelagalli has known since she came to Marist her freshman year that she wanted to start a mock trial team. Because of the heavy travel schedule of a competing team, Pelagalli began brainstorming ideas to give students the mock trial experience without the intense commitment. Working with Honors Director Dr. James Snyder and Pre-Law Advisor Professor Annamaria Maciocia, Pelagalli has finally brought her dream of “bringing Mock Trial to Marist into fruition” with her thesis project.
“I hope the tournament will be a fun way for students to be involved in Mock Trial in a less stressful way,” said Pelagalli. She has used the New York State mock trial rules as a guideline in designing this event on her own, in attempts to keep it as a close to a real mock trial tournament as possible in order for students to get the full experience.
Participants will form teams and play the roles of either lawyers or witnesses for the defense and prosecution. They will be provided with the facts, affidavits from witnesses on both sides, and evidence including traffic tickets and diagrams of the incident. Additionally, the participants will attend seminars throughout the semester to learn the rules of mock trial, evidence, and courtroom procedure.
The tournament will follow the format of a real trial; with opening and closing statements, interrogations of witnesses, objections and cross-examinations. The participants are expected to fulfill the roles of lawyers and witnesses as if they were in a real courtroom. As they dress and act the part, participants and teams will be rewarded with points for providing relevant arguments, examinations, and appearing professional and cordial in court.
All participants will be scored on their confidence and preparedness. Lawyers will be scored on their knowledge of the competition’s rules and case details, their opening statements, examinations, and cross examinations. Witnesses will be judged on their credibility and preparation, and all points will be tallied to determine the winning team.
This tournament is an opportunity for anyone studying law, or anyone interested in trials, court proceeding, and even courtroom TV dramas, to get a feel for what it’s truly like to be present in court, no matter the role. Pelagalli hopes that the completion of her thesis project and the end of the tournament in April will not mean the end of Marist Mock Trial. Pelagalli said, “Another student could host a Marist Mock Trial Tournament for their own senior thesis project, or could be continued through the Pre-Law Club…[or it could even] become its own club.”
The deadline to sign up to participate in the Marist Mock Trial Tournament is Friday January 26. For registration and more information, visit https://sites.google.com/view/maristmocktrial/home or email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.