AMHS Mock Trial: Murder Mystery

You may know that AMHS has a Mock Trial team, or you may not, but you probably don’t really know what Mock Trial is all about. As a member of Mock Trial, I am here to provide you with some insight. I will also provide some quotes from current members of the Mock Trial team throughout the article.

Mock Trial is a student-led team with guidance from Dr. Russel. The competitions take place in a real courtroom with real judges. Teams that succeed at the regional level can move on to the state competition. AMHS placed 4th in the state last year! The winning team represents their state at a national level. 

Speaking of last year, let’s talk a little bit about that case. Like this year, it was also a criminal case involving a murder. A man was on trial for allegedly pushing someone off of a cliff. The prosecution alleged that the victim had been investigating a series of arson attacks that the defendant admitted to doing. Hence, the defendant’s motive for murder must have been that he found out that the victim was investigating his arsons. Last year, I was actually the defendant, so I am biased: I believe that I was innocent.

Each High School team has both a defense and a prosecution/plaintiff (depending on whether the case is criminal or civil). Because this year’s case is criminal, the State of South Carolina is prosecuting, as you can see below. During the competition, each high school team competes in 3 rounds (at both the regional and state level). A side from each team is randomly selected for each round. For example, AMHS’ defense team could be randomly selected to go against Lucky Beckham’s prosecution team. However, it is guaranteed that each side goes at least once. 

So, why is CY Miles on trial? Here is a summary of the case provided by the case files:

Jody Rivers and Cy Miles are professional musicians in Ross, South Carolina. In 2017, the two met at a musical festival at Buddie’s Burgers and decided to form a band, Ambition. The two made an agreement to share rights to the songs they wrote. Ambition enjoyed the growing success. The music journalist, Jett Jones, covered the band extensively and helped to grow their fan base. Tension grew between Jody and Cy after an electric keyboard player was added to their act. In late 2018, Jody and Cy met a record label representative who suggested they add more excitement to Ambition’s show. Jody was all for the added effects, but Cy was not. The tension led to a falling out which resulted in Cy no longer in the band right before a big performance at the Corley Theater. The night of the big performance, Cy and Jody saw one another during soundcheck. Their accounts differ as to what occurred when they spoke, but both agree that Cy left the theater after their encounter. As the show was to begin, Jett Jones spotted a Facebook post from a user called “Cynical Songwriter” which implied something bad was going to happen during Ambition’s show. Jett reposted the post and warned people inside the Corley to get out. Concertgoers started to see the post and headed for the exits. As they started to leave, a loud bang came from the area of the stage, causing a panic in the crowd. People tried to exit the theater through both exits and found the side exit would not open. The crowd crushing resulted in multiple injuries and one death. Janet Porter was the fan killed. Cy Miles has been accused of tampering with the door and the band’s pyrotechnics, causing the explosion and resulting stampede. The Prosecution alleges that Cy’s actions resulted in the death of Janet Porter. Cy has been indicted for Murder or Voluntary Manslaughter along with transmitting threats of an explosive devise or hoax device and a false information charge.

Now that you know about this year’s case, let’s talk about how the Mock Trial competition unfolds when it gets to the courtroom. Of course, this is how a real courtroom functions too. 

The first step of the trial is the opening statements. These statements are delivered by one attorney on each side. Usually, the defense and the prosecution each have three attorneys and three witnesses. During the opening statement, the defense and prosecution give a summary as to what will unfold in court. They even try to predict the argument of the opposition.

Each side calls three witnesses to the stand. The side that calls the witness then proceeds to direct them. The witnesses can only respond to the questions using exhibits that have been presented to them, that they are familiar with, and that have been entered into evidence, or they can use their own affidavits. Here is an example of an exhibit from our current case:

The other side can object to any question posed during the direct, such as if a question is leaning (hinting at an answer) or calls for hearsay (a very complex issue that basically tries to use out of court statements to prove the truth of the matter asserted, think “I heard that she said”…). Those are just a few examples of questions that are not admissible in a court of law. The objection is then debated in front of the judge, who can overrule or sustain it. As you can see, Mock Trial is a very active competition that teaches you how a true courtroom functions. After the direct interrogation is finished (the direct is where the side that calls you is asking you questions, think the defense calls the defendant to the stand and asks them questions that make them appear innocent), then the other side is up next to interrogate the witness. This is called the cross examination, where the witness is under attack for their validity and content found throughout their affidavits and relevant exhibits. Now, the direct attorney is the one objecting to questions in an attempt to protect their witness. 

Finally, the closing statements conclude the trial. An attorney from each side stands up and delivers a powerful speech (hopefully) to the jury. In our case, the jury is a group of professional lawyers and judges from across the state who are actually the one’s judging the round and deciding which team did better.

Why should you do Mock Trial?

I met all of my friends through Mock Trial. I didn’t even know anyone from before I started.”

— Wilson Swenson

Above all, Mock Trial gives you an insight into how a real courtroom functions in the United States. Perhaps you will end up in a courtroom one day for some reason unbeknownst to me and will require the knowledge of courtroom law to defend yourself. Nevertheless, everyone should know about the fundamentals of the American legal system. Whether you are going into business, medicine, or acting, knowing some basic law is essential…and impressive to colleges. As Kimberly Do put it, “I have PTSD from providing quotes.” Remember to follow AMHS Mock Trial on Insta to keep up with the team!