Skip to main content Skip to main content

Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers

Rights and Responsibilities of Students Rights and Responsibilities of Students — Essential Readings

About the National High School Mock Trial Championship
by the National High School Mock Trial Championship, Inc.

Matt Johnson’s students have participated in a variety of mock trials. This article sets out the history, purpose, and rules of the National High School Mock Trial Championship for those teachers considering participation… read more below

About the National High School Mock Trial Championship

by National High School Mock Trial Championship, Inc.

The national mock trial championship was initiated in 1984 in Des Moines, Iowa, with teams from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin participating. After the success of the tournament in Iowa, more states became interested in participating and the tournament became billed as an “All-State” Tournament. The competition then moved to Nebraska and involved 10 states. Subsequent tournaments have been held in Arizona, Washington, D.C., Texas, Kentucky, Oregon, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Georgia, Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and New Mexico. The tournament is hosted annually by different states to ensure that the cost of running the tournament doesn’t fall on the same state more than once.

As the interest in the “All-State” tournament grew, so did the need to restructure the tournament. In 1989, an executive board was established for the purpose of organizing and developing continuity in the structure of the tournament. The tournament’s official name was changed to the “National High School Mock Trial Championship,” to reflect the “national” nature of the program and to encourage more states to participate. In 1990, the competition was formally incorporated, and the Federal Rules of Evidence were implemented in 1991. An average of 34 states and two territories regularly participate. Past winning teams have come from virtually every corner of the United States. The national executive board consists of states that have sponsored the national tournament in the past and those who have committed to hosting the tournament in the near future. In addition, it created a member-at-large position for anyone who wishes to participate on the Board regardless of whether their state will ever host the national championship. Several states presently hold positions on the national board, and various board members serve as mock trial coordinators. Individual state mock trial coordinators also provide support.

Goals of the National High School Mock Trial Championship
The goals of the National High School Mock Trial Championship, Inc., are:

  • to promote greater understanding of and appreciation for the law, court procedures, and the American judicial system.
  • to improve basic life skills, such as critical thinking, reading, speaking, and advocacy.
  • to improve communication and cooperation among key community members, including schools, teachers, government leaders, law professionals, and citizens.
  • to heighten appreciation for the principle of equal justice for all.
  • to promote an awareness of current legal issues.
  • to promote the exchange of ideas among students from throughout the United States while providing a rewarding and memorable experience of interaction.

Competition Rules and Scoring
The National High School Mock Trial Championship is governed by the Rules of the Competition and the National High School Mock Trial Rules of Evidence. Any clarification of rules or case materials will be issued in writing to all participating teams no less than two weeks prior to the tournament. The trial coordinator, upon the advice and consent of the Board of Directors of the National High School Mock Trial Championship, will distribute to each team any such clarification.

No host state may alter the language of these rules without the approval of the National High School Mock Trial Championship Board of Directors; however, the Rules of Evidence may be reviewed for relevance, and rules may be added or deleted, so long as the language inserted is the original text contained in the Federal Rules of Evidence.

All teams are responsible for the conduct of persons associated with their teams throughout the mock trial event.

Rule 1.1. Rules
All trials will be governed by the Rules of the National High School Mock Trial Competition and the National High School Mock Trial Rules of Evidence.
Questions or interpretations of these rules are within the discretion of the Board of Directors of the National High School Mock Trial Championship, Inc. (“National Board”), whose decision is final.

Rule 1.2. Code of Conduct
The Rules of Competition, as well as proper rules of courthouse and courtroom decorum and security, must be followed. The National Board possesses discretion to impose sanctions, up to and including forfeiture or disqualification, for any misconduct, flagrant rule violations, or breaches of decorum which affect the conduct of a trial or which impugn the reputation or integrity of any team, school, participant, court officer, judge, or the mock trial program.

Rule 1.3. Emergencies
During a trial, the presiding judge shall have discretion to declare an emergency and adjourn the trial for a short period of time to address the emergency. In the event of an emergency that would cause a team to be unable to continue a trial or to participate with less than six members, the team must notify the National Board as soon as is reasonably practical. If the Board, or its designee(s), in its sole discretion, agrees that an emergency exists, the Board, or its designee(s), shall declare an emergency and will decide whether the team will forfeit or may direct that the team take appropriate measures to continue any trial round with less than six members. A penalty may be assessed.

A forfeiting team will receive a loss and points totaling the average number of the ballots and points received by the losing teams in that round. The non-forfeiting team will receive a win and an average number of ballots and points received by the winning teams in that round.

Final determination of emergency, forfeiture, reduction of points, or advancement, will be made by the Board.

Rule 2.1. The Problem
The problem will be an original fact pattern, which may contain any or all of the following: statement of facts, indictment, stipulations, witness statements/affidavits, jury charges, exhibits, etc. Stipulations may not be disputed at trial. Witness statements may not be altered. The problem shall consist of three witnesses per side, all of whom shall have names and characteristics which would allow them to be played by either males or females. All three of the witnesses must be called.

Rule 2.2. Witnesses Bound by Statements
Each witness is bound by the facts contained in his/her own witness statement, the Statement of Facts, if present, and/or any necessary documentation relevant to his/her testimony. Fair extrapolations may be allowed, provided reasonable inference may be made from the witness’ statement. If, in direct examination, an attorney asks a question which calls for extrapolated information pivotal to the facts at issue, the information is subject to objection under Rule 2.3, “unfair extrapolation.” A witness is not bound by facts contained in other witness statements.

Rule 2.3. Unfair Extrapolation
A fair extrapolation is one that is neutral. Unfair extrapolations are best attacked through impeachment and closing arguments and are to be dealt with in the course of the trial. If a witness is asked information not contained in the witness’ statement, the answer must be consistent with the statement and may not materially affect the witness’ testimony or any substantive issue of the case.

Attorneys for the opposing team may refer to Rule 2.3 in a special objection, such as “unfair extrapolation” or “This information is beyond the scope of the statement of facts.”

Possible rulings by a judge include:
a) No extrapolation has occurred;
b) An unfair extrapolation has occurred;
c) The extrapolation was fair; or
d) Ruling is taken under advisement.

The decision of the presiding judge regarding extrapolations or evidentiary matters is final.

When an attorney objects to an extrapolation, the judge will rule in open court to clarify the course of further proceedings.

Rule 2.4. Gender of Witnesses
All witnesses are gender neutral. Personal pronoun changes in witness statements indicating gender of the characters may be made. Any student may portray the role of any witness of either gender.

Rule 2.5. Voir Dire
Voir dire examination of a witness is not permitted.

Rule 3.1. Team Eligibility
Teams competing in the National High School Mock Trial Championship must be comprised of students who participated on the current state championship team. The state coordinator may designate an alternate team should the state championship team be unable to participate, so long as all students on the team are from the same original team.

States may not enter an “allstar” team. The National Board shall determine what is an “allstar” team. The Board’s determination will be final.

Rule 3.2. Team Composition
Teams consist of eight official members assigned to roles representing the prosecution/plaintiff and defense/defendant sides. Only six members may participate in any given round. (See Rule 3.3 for further explanation referring to team participation.)

Student timekeepers may be provided by the teams; however, these persons are not considered “official timekeepers” in the tournament.

At no time may any team for any reason substitute other persons for official team members. The Team Roster will become official at the time of on site registration.

Rule 3.3. Team Presentation
Teams must present both the Prosecution/Plaintiff and Defense/Defendant sides of the case, using six team members in each trial round. For each trial round, teams shall use three students as attorneys and three students as witnesses.

Rule 3.4. Team Duties
Team members are to evenly divide their duties. Each of the three attorneys will conduct one direct examination and one cross-examination; in addition, one will present the opening statements and another will present the closing arguments. In other words, the eight attorney duties for each team will be divided as follows:

  1. Opening Statements
  2. Direct Examination of Witness #1
  3. Direct Examination of Witness #2
  4. Direct Examination of Witness #3
  5. Cross Examination of Witness #1
  6. Cross Examination of Witness #2
  7. Cross Examination of Witness #3
  8. Closing Argument (including Rebuttal) [See Rule 4.5]

Opening Statements must be given by both sides at the beginning of the trial.

The attorney who examines a particular witness on direct examination is the only person who may make the objections to the opposing attorney’s questions of that witness’ cross-examination, and the attorney who cross-examines a witness will be the only one permitted to make objections during the direct examination of that witness.

Each team must call three witnesses. Witnesses must be called only by their own team during their case-in-chief and examined by both sides. Witnesses may not be recalled by either side.

Rule 3.5. Team Roster Form
Copies of the Team Roster Form must be completed and duplicated by each team prior to arrival at the courtroom for each round of competition. Teams must be identified by the code assigned at registration. No information identifying team origin should appear on the form. Before beginning a trial, the teams must exchange copies of the Team Roster Form. The Form should identify the gender of each witness so that references to such parties will be made in the proper gender. Copies of the Team Roster Form should also be made available to the judging panel and presiding judge before each round.

Rule 4.1. Courtroom Setting
The Plaintiff/Prosecution team shall be seated closest to the jury box. No team shall rearrange the courtroom without prior permission of the judge.

Rule 4.2. Stipulations
Stipulations shall be considered part of the record and already admitted into evidence.

Rule 4.3. Reading Into the Record Not Permitted
Stipulations, the indictment, or the Charge to the Jury will not be read into the record.

Rule 4.4. Swearing of Witnesses
The following oath may be used before questioning begins: “Do you promise that the testimony you are about to give will faithfully and truthfully conform to the facts and rules of the mock trial competition?”

The swearing of witnesses will occur in one of two ways. Either the presiding judge will indicate all witnesses are assumed to be sworn, or the above oath will be conducted by (a) the presiding judge, (b) a bailiff, provided by the host state; or (c) the examining attorney. The host state will indicate which method will be used during all rounds of the current year’s tournament. Witnesses may stand or sit during the oath.

Rule 4.5. Trial Sequence and Time Limits
The trial sequence and time limits are as follows:
1. Opening Statement (5 minutes per side)
2. Direct and Redirect (optional) Examination (25 minutes per side)
3. Cross and Re-cross (optional) Examination (20 minutes per side)
4. Closing Argument (5 minutes per side)

The Prosecution/Plaintiff gives the opening statement first. The Prosecution/Plaintiff gives the closing argument first; the Prosecution/Plaintiff may reserve a portion of its closing time for a rebuttal. The Prosecution/Plaintiff’s rebuttal is limited to the scope of the Defense’s closing argument.

Attorneys are not required to use the entire time allotted to each part of the trial. Time remaining in one part of the trial may not be transferred to another part of the trial.

Rule 4.6. Timekeeping
Time limits are mandatory and will be enforced. Each team is permitted to have its own timekeeper and timekeeping aids; however, an official timekeeper will be assigned to each trial.

Time for objections, extensive questioning from the judge, or administering the oath will not be counted as part of the allotted time during examination of witnesses and opening and closing statements.

Time does not stop for introduction of exhibits.

Rule 4.7. Time Extensions and Scoring
The presiding judge has sole discretion to grant time extensions. If time has expired and an attorney continues without permission from the Court, the scoring judges may determine individually whether or not to discount points in a category because of over-runs in time.

Rule 4.8. Motions Prohibited
No motions may be made.

Rule 4.9. Sequestration
Teams may not invoke the rule of sequestration.

Rule 4.10. Bench Conferences
Bench conferences may be granted at the discretion of the presiding judge, but should be made from the counsel table in the educational interest of handling all matters in open court.

Rule 4.11. Supplemental Material/Costuming
Teams may refer only to materials included in the trial packet. No illustrative aids of any kind may be used, unless provided in the case packet. No enlargements of the case materials will be permitted. Absolutely no props or costumes are permitted unless authorized specifically in the case materials. Costuming is defined as hairstyles, clothing, accessories, and make-up which are case-specific.

The only documents which the teams may present to the presiding judge or scoring panel are the individual exhibits as they are introduced into evidence and the team roster forms. Exhibit notebooks are not to be provided to the presiding judge or scoring panel.

Rule 4.12. Trial Communication
Coaches, teachers, alternates, and observers shall not talk to, signal, communicate with, or coach their teams during trial. This rule remains in force during any emergency recess which may occur. Team members may, among themselves, communicate during the trial; however, no disruptive communication is allowed. Signaling of time by the teams’ timekeepers shall not be considered a violation of this rule.

Coaches, teachers, alternates, and observers must remain outside the bar in the spectator section of the courtroom. Only team members participating in this round may sit inside the bar and communicate with each other.


Rule 4.13. Viewing a Trial
Team members, alternates, attorney/coaches, teacher-sponsors, and any other persons directly associated with a mock trial team, except for those authorized by the National Board, are not allowed to view other teams’ performances in the National competition, so long as their team remains in the competition.

Rule 4.14. Videotaping/Photography
Any team has the option to refuse participation in videotaping, tape recording, and still photography by opposing teams. Media coverage will be allowed.

Media representatives authorized by the host committee or the National Board will wear identification badges.

Rule 4.15. Jury Trial
The case will be tried to a jury; arguments are to be made to judge and jury. Teams may address the scoring judges as the jury.

Rule 4.16. Standing During Trial
Unless excused by the judge, attorneys will stand while giving opening and closing statements, during direct and cross examinations, and for all objections.

Rule 4.17. Objections During Opening Statement/Closing Statement
No objections may be raised during opening statements or during closing arguments. If a team believes an objection would have been proper during the opposing team’s opening statement or closing argument, one of its attorneys may, following the opening statement or closing argument, stand to be recognized by the judge and may say, “If I had been permitted to object during closing arguments, I would have objected to the opposing team’s statement that ________.” The presiding judge will not rule on this “objection.”

Presiding and scoring judges will weigh the “objection” individually. No rebuttal by opposing team will be heard.

Rule 4.18. Objections

  1. Argumentative Questions: An attorney shall not ask argumentative questions.
  2. Lack of Proper Predicate/Foundation: Attorneys shall lay a proper foundation prior to moving the admission of evidence. After the exhibit has been offered into evidence, the exhibit may still be objected to on other grounds.
  3. Assuming Facts Not in Evidence: Attorneys may not ask a question that assumes unproved facts. However, an expert witness may be asked a question based upon stated assumptions, the truth of which is reasonably supported by evidence (sometimes called a “hypothetical question”).
  4. Questions Calling for Narrative or General Answer: Questions must be stated so as to call for a specific answer. (Example of improper question: “Tell us what you know about this case.”)
  5. Non-Responsive Answer: A witness’ answer is objectionable if it fails to respond to the question asked.
  6. Repetition: Questions designed to elicit the same testimony or evidence previously presented in its entirety are improper if merely offered as a repetition of the same testimony or evidence from the same or similar source.

Teams are not precluded from raising additional objections, which are available under the National High School Mock Trial Rules of Evidence.

Rule 4.19. Reserved

Rule 4.20. Procedure for Introduction of Exhibits
As an example, the following steps effectively introduce evidence:

  1. All evidence will be pre-marked as exhibits.
  2. Ask for permission to approach the bench. Show the presiding judge the marked exhibit. “Your honor, may I approach the bench to show you what has been marked as Exhibit No.__?”
  3. Show the exhibit to opposing counsel.
  4. Ask for permission to approach the witness. Give the exhibit to the witness.
  5. “I now hand you what has been marked as Exhibit No.___ for identification.”
  6. Ask the witness to identify the exhibit. “Would you identify it please?”
  7. Witness answers with identification only.
  8. Offer the exhibit into evidence. “Your Honor, we offer Exhibit No.__ into evidence at this time. The authenticity of this exhibit has been stipulated.”
  9. Court: “Is there an objection?” (If opposing counsel believes a proper foundation has not been laid, the attorney should be prepared to object at this time.)
  10. Opposing Counsel: “No, your Honor,” or “Yes, your Honor.” If the response is “yes,” the objection will be stated on the record. Court: “Is there any response to the objection?”
  11. Court: “Exhibit No. __ is/is not admitted.”

Rule 4.21. Use of Notes
Attorneys may use notes in presenting their cases. Witnesses are not permitted to use notes while testifying during the trial. Attorneys may consult with each other at counsel table verbally or through the use of notes.

Rule 4.22. Redirect/Recross
Redirect and recross examinations are permitted, provided they conform to the restrictions in Rule 611(d) in the National High School Mock Trial Rules of Evidence.

Rule 4.23. Scope of Closing Arguments
Closing arguments must be based on the actual evidence and testimony presented during the trial.

Rule 4.24. The Critique
The judging panel is allowed 10 minutes for debriefing. The timekeeper will monitor the critique following the trial. Presiding judges are to limit critique sessions to a combined total of 10 minutes. There is no critique in the fourth round.

Judges shall not make a ruling on the legal merits of the trial. Judges may not inform the students of score sheet results.

Rule 4.25. Offers of Proof
No offers of proof may be requested or tendered.

Rule 5.1. Finality of Decisions
All decisions of the judging panel are FINAL.

Rule 5.2. Composition of Judging Panels
The judging panel will consist of at least three individuals. The composition of the judging panel and the role of the presiding judge will be at the discretion of the host director, with the same format used throughout the competition, as follows:

  1. One presiding judge and two scoring judges (all three of whom complete score sheets); or
  2. One presiding judge and three scoring judges (scoring judges only complete score sheets); or,
  3. One presiding judge and two scoring judges (scoring judges only complete score sheets and presiding judge completes a form which selects only the winner and does not assign point totals for either team).

The scoring judges may be persons with substantial mock trial coaching or scoring experience or attorneys. Each scoring panel shall include at least one attorney. The presiding judge shall be an attorney.

At the discretion of the host director, the Championship round may have a larger panel.

All presiding and scoring judges receive the mock trial manual, a memorandum outlining the case, orientation materials, and a briefing in a judges’ orientation.

Rule 5.3. Score Sheets/Ballots
The term “ballot” will refer to the decision made by a scoring judge as to which team made the best presentation in the round. The term “score sheet” is used in reference to the form on which speaker and team points are recorded. Score sheets are to be completed individually by the scoring judges. Scoring judges are not bound by the rulings of the presiding judge. The team that earns the highest points on an individual judge’s score sheet is the winner of that ballot. The team that receives the majority of the three ballots wins the round. The ballot votes determine the win/loss record of the team for power-matching and ranking purposes. While the judging panel may deliberate on any special awards (i.e., Outstanding Attorney/Witness) the judging panel should not deliberate on individual scores.

Rule 5.4. Completion of Score Sheets
Each scoring judge shall record a number of points (1-10) for each presentation of the trial. At the end of the trial, each scoring judge shall total the sum of each team’s individual points, place this sum in the Column Totals box, and enter the team (“P” for prosecution/plaintiff or “D” for defense/defendant) with the higher total number of points in the Tiebreaker Box. NO TIE IS ALLOWED IN THE COLUMN TOTALS BOXES.

In the event of a mathematical error in tabulation by the scoring judges which, when corrected, results in a tie in the column Totals boxes, the Tiebreaker Box shall determine award of the ballot.

Rule 5.5. Team Advancement
Teams will be ranked based on the following criteria in the order listed:

  1. Win/Loss Record – equals the number of rounds won or lost by a team;
  2. Total Number of Ballots – equals the number of scoring judges’ votes a team earned in preceding rounds;
  3. Total Number of Points Accumulated in Each Round;
  4. Point Spread Against Opponents – The point spread is the difference between the total points earned by the team whose tie is being broken less the total points of that team’s opponent in each previous round. The greatest sum of these point spreads will break the tie in favor of the team with the largest cumulative point spread.

Rule 5.6. Power Matching/Seeding
A random method of selection will determine opponents in the first round. A power-match system will determine opponents for all other rounds. The two teams emerging with the strongest record from the four rounds will advance to the final round. The first-place team will be determined by ballots from the championship round only.

Power matching will provide that:

  1. Pairings for the first round will be at random;
  2. All teams are guaranteed to present each side of the case at least once;
  3. Brackets will be determined by win/loss record. Sorting within brackets will be determined in the following order: (1) win/loss record; (2) ballots; (3) speaker points; then (4) point spread. The team with the highest number of ballots in the bracket will be matched with the team with the lowest number of ballots in the bracket; the next highest with the next lowest, and so on until all teams are paired;
  4. If there is an odd number of teams in a bracket, the team at the bottom of that bracket will be matched with the top team from the next lower bracket;
  5. Teams will not meet the same opponent twice;
  6. To the greatest extent possible, teams will alternate side presentation in subsequent rounds. Bracket integrity in power matching will supersede alternate side presentation.

Rule 5.7. Selection of Sides for Championship Round
In determining which team will represent which side in the Championship Round, the following procedure shall be used:

  1. The team with the letter/numerical code which comes first will be considered the “Designated Team.”
  2. The coin will be tossed by a designee of the host state coordinator.
  3. If the coin comes up heads, the Designated Team shall represent the plaintiff/prosecution in the Championship Round. If the coin comes up tails, the Designated Team shall represent the defendant.

Rule 5.8. Odd Number of Teams Participating in Championship
A “bye” becomes necessary when an odd number of teams are present for any given round of the tournament. It is the intent of the National High School Mock Trial Championship to avoid byes where possible. To avoid having an odd number of teams to start the national championship, the host state, upon determining that an odd number of teams have registered, will have a second team from its own state participate.

In the event of a circumstance resulting in an odd number of competing teams, the following procedure will apply:

  1. The team drawing the “bye” (no opponent for a single trial round) in rounds two through four will, by default, receive a win and three ballots for that round. For the purpose of power-matching, the team will temporarily be given points equal to the average of its own points earned in its preceding trials. At the end of the fourth round, the average from all three actual trial rounds participated in by the team will be used for the final points given for that team’s bye round. For example, a team receiving a bye in round three would receive three ballots and an average of its points earned in rounds one and two. At the end of the fourth round, however, the points actually awarded to the team for the bye round will be adjusted to take into consideration the fourth round performance of the team.
  2. A team receiving a bye in round one will be awarded a win, three ballots and the average number of points for all round one winners, which total will be adjusted at the end of each round to reflect the actual average earned by that team.

Rule 6.1. Reporting a Rules Violation/Inside the Bar
Disputes which occur within the bar must be filed immediately following the conclusion of that trial round. Disputes must be brought to the attention of the presiding judge at the conclusion of the trial.
If any team believes that a substantial rules violation has occurred, one of its student attorneys must indicate that the team intends to file a dispute. The scoring panel will be excused from the courtroom, and the presiding judge will provide the student attorney with a dispute form, on which the student will record in writing the nature of the dispute. The student may communicate with counsel and/or student witnesses before lodging the notice of dispute or in preparing the form.

At no time in this process may team sponsors or coaches communicate or consult with the student attorneys. Only student attorneys may invoke the dispute procedure.

Rule 6.2. Dispute Resolution Procedure
The presiding judge will review the written dispute and determine whether the dispute should be heard or denied. If the dispute is denied, the judge will record the reasons for this, announce her/his decision to the Court, retire to complete his/her score sheet (if applicable), and turn the dispute form in with the score sheets. If the judge feels the grounds for the dispute merit a hearing, the form will be shown to opposing counsel for their written response. After the team has recorded its response and transmitted it to the judge, the judge will ask each team to designate a spokesperson. After the spokespersons have had time (not to exceed three minutes) to prepare their arguments, the judge will conduct a hearing on the dispute, providing each team’s spokesperson three minutes for a presentation. The spokespersons may be questioned by the judge. At no time in this process may team sponsors or coaches communicate or consult with the student attorneys. After the hearing, the presiding judge will adjourn the court and retire to consider her/his ruling on the dispute. That decision will be recorded in writing on the dispute form, with no further announcement.

Rule 6.3. Effect of Violation on Score
If the presiding judge determines that a substantial rules violation has occurred, the judge will inform the scoring judges of the dispute and provide a summary of each team’s argument. The scoring judges will consider the dispute before reaching their final decisions. The dispute may or may not affect the final decision, but the matter will be left to the discretion of the scoring judges.

Rule 6.4. Reporting of Rules Violation/Outside the Bar
Disputes which occur outside the bar only during a trial round may be brought by teacher or attorney-coaches exclusively. Such disputes must be made promptly to a trial coordinator or a member of the National Board, who will ask the complaining party to complete a dispute form. The form will be taken to the tournament’s communication’s center, whereupon a dispute resolution panel will (a) notify all pertinent parties; (b) allow time for a response, if appropriate; (c) conduct a hearing; and (d) rule on the charge. The dispute resolution panel may notify the judging panel of the affected courtroom of the ruling on the charge or may assess an appropriate penalty.

The dispute resolution panel will be designated by the National Board.

Source: National High School Mock Trial Championship, Inc.

Series Directory

Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers