Mock Trial @ Rifle High School

Mock Trial @ Rifle High School
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Since 1985, the Colorado High School Mock Trial Program has brought together attorneys, judges, teachers and other community leaders to instruct students about the judicial system and the trial process. After placing third last year, our very own team at Rifle High School is headed to their regional tournament.

Sponsored by teacher Nate Miller, the RHS mock trial team was previously run by long-time teacher Marilyn Latham and later resurrected by teacher Anthony Rossilli. It is coached by Garfield County Judge Jon Pototsky and assisted by attorney Heather Beattie and Mrs. Latham.

Mock trial, real results


Miller says that mock trial has a way of tricking kids into doing something that grows their academic skills. They enjoy the camaraderie on the team and the back-and-forth in the courtroom, but they're also secretly learning how to be better thinkers and writers.


“Mock Trial is a lot about critical thinking,” says Miller. “They have to use witness statements and exhibits to draw evidence and develop a case, create their own direct and cross-examination questions, and listen to the other team during competition in order to respond.” Miller says the structure of building a case is like writing a research essay.


While RHS has considered offering a class like Glenwood Springs High School does that helps get first time members ready for Mock Trial, most recruitment comes from the business class and from the drama club. “We just want it to be fun, but also something kids take seriously,” says Miller. “We want to win, after all.”

How mock trial works 


Every year, the Colorado Bar Association issues a fictional trial where the prosecution and defense have three witnesses each, and both sides have one "expert witness" among them. Students are assigned a role on each side of the case with teams consisting of a minimum of six members. The "jury" is three competition judges (usually attorneys or former mock trial competitors) who award points based on performance.


On the prosecution, three student attorneys work with three prosecution witnesses, but the team also has to be ready to perform defense roles. Those who are prosecution attorneys serve as defense witnesses, and the prosecution witnesses act as defense attorneys. Each witness has to memorize their witness statement and prepare for questions from the opposition. 


It is randomly determined at the start of the competition whether a team will be prosecution or defense, and then it alternates by round. It runs like an actual trial with time limits for opening and closing statements (5 minutes each), direct examination (25 minutes) and cross-examination (15 minutes).


“The students also tend to develop a personality for their characters and act that way on the stand,” says Miller. “It’s sort of like theater or drama in a way. To do it really well, you have to quickly think on your feet.”

Time, date, place


The 2022 Western Slope Regional Mock Trial Tournament will be held at 9 a.m. on February 26th and 27th at the Mesa County Justice Center in Grand Junction. Observers are limited to 30 people per courtroom who are socially distanced. Masks are required.
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