Last November, 20 students from Antelope Valley Adventist School (AVAS) participated in the 44th annual L.A. County Mock Trial Competition as first-time competitors. Student teams studied a hypothetical case and conducted their own legal research to prepare for a simulation of a criminal case in which they portrayed attorneys, witnesses, clerks, and bailiffs, as well as support roles: a timekeeper, a courtroom journalist, and a courtroom artist.
Samantha Macias, AVAS principal, sixth- to eighth- grade teacher, and mock trial program director, introduced the program this year. “I did mock trial for three years in high school,” Macias shared. “When I looked back at the same program through the Constitutional Rights Foundation, I saw they also have a middle school division, so I signed us up.”
For three months, students met weekly after school to prepare. Volunteer attorneys from Parris Law Firm in Lancaster gave guidance on courtroom procedure, the law, and their roles. The students were divided into defense and prosecution teams, with three lawyers and six to eight witnesses per team. Attorneys wrote their own lines of questioning, plus opening and closing statements. The witnesses worked with attorneys to create responses to their questions and memorized their witness statements.
Usually held at a courthouse in person, this year’s mock trial was held virtually via Zoom. Each participating school was admitted to assigned virtual courtrooms to present their trials to a presiding judge. “While learning about the legal system and due justice, they’re also developing public speaking, organization, and analysis skills,” Macias said.
Most students enjoyed the learning process and seeing the fruits of their labor.
“I liked that it was a new experience, something I’d never done before,” said Elise Henderson, seventh grade. “It challenged me and put my mind to work.”
“It was great to learn what it’s like to be an attorney and work at a law firm,” said Spence Potot, eighth grade. “I liked finding evidence, questioning suspects, and being confident about my decisions.”
The mock trial introduced others to potential careers.
“If you’re trying to get into law when you’re older, it’s a good program to try,” said Camila Mira, sixth grade. “I might look into law when I’m older. It taught us how trials are run and what goes on in a courtroom.”
Although AVAS students did not move to the next level of competition, Macias is excited to continue this new tradition. “I think it’s a great way to put our Adventist school on the map in our community and to build relationships with prominent members of the community,” Macias said. “As long as I’m here, the mock trial will be annual.”
By Araya Moss