Sonoma High mock trial team competes at state
Valerie Walter Pistole
The Sonoma Valley High School mock trial team will compete in the State Mock Trial Competition in Sacramento this month. I worked with teacher coach Janet Hansen, who has prepared teams for the past 12 years, and former college mock trial team competitor Jessica Guest, to help the 15 students polish their presentation of a criminal trial in which a young woman is murdered and her friend is being tried for the crime.
The team presentation includes a pretrial motion, which requires an understanding of complex constitutional issues such as the right to bear arms, which was argued on both sides by Delaney Gold-Diamond. The pretrial was followed by opening arguments by the prosecution and defense, represented by Madeline Conners and Christina Uzzo. What follows is the direct and cross-examination of eight lay and expert witnesses, roles also played by students. The trial concluded with closing arguments for both sides by Sean Hall and Hannah Bates, all of which is kept in order by the student bailiff John Engebreth and court clerk Pio Valenzuela.
Each year, the Constitutional Rights Foundation (CRF) creates and produces a new set of Mock Trial materials based on an important issue facing America’s youth. The materials include a hypothetical criminal case (including summaries of case law, witness statements, official exhibits, and simplified rules of evidence), lesson plans on the central issues in the case, and competition rules and guidelines.
The team has been scrimmaging against teams in Marin since December for practice, and just concluded competing with teams from Napa County. After the preliminary rounds in Napa, the Sonoma team came out on top, and is thus confidently advancing to the state rounds where one team from each county qualifies to win at the state level, culminating in the national competition.
The other students participating include Joel Bremner, Elizabeth Eisenstark, Caleb Horowitz, Paige Knef, Alexis Krouzkevitch, Julie Ling, James Traynor, and Madelaine Goertzen.
With the assistance of a teacher-sponsor and an attorney coach, CRF’s Mock Trial program actively engages more than 8,000 student-participants across the state of California. Students experience the excitement of working in teams, exchanging ideas, setting goals, and examining issues while interacting with positive role models from their communities. By studying the case and preparing strategies and arguments for trial, students also develop presentation skills, analytic ability, and team cooperation.
The Mock Trials are tried in actual courtrooms (for Sonoma Valley High, at the Napa County Courthouse for their league trials) and are tried in front of an actual presiding judge. At the trial’s conclusion, the judge renders the verdict, based on the performance of the defense and prosecution.
Volunteer attorneys attend the trials and render scores for each team, thus determining the winner of each trial. This “official” aspect of the Mock Trials really adds to the experience, poise and confidence that the students gain from the program.
The team has raised the money for their state competition through the help of a Mary’s Pizza Shack “Dine and Donate” fundraiser, and expect that they will need to do a car wash in May to raise the balance of the funds. They have not asked for money from the Boosters who are hard pressed to help all the student programs. Thankfully, parent-driver volunteers will help transport the team to the competition site at no cost this year, since it is being held in Sacramento, closer to home.
The excitement is tangible as the team intensifies its practices, now occurring at least four times a week. The progress in the past two weeks alone puts the team in a good position to score competitively with teams from throughout the state. But regardless of the results of the contest, each student has shown remarkable dedication and growth. I look forward to a very strong team returning next year as upper class students.