UCI’s Mock Trial Team Delivers a Fatal Sentence to the Competition

Ranked number 46 this year on U.S. News and World Report’s list of the “Best Colleges,” UC Irvine is placed below UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara. But for UCI’s Mock Trial team, this may be the year to be on top.

The weekend of Oct. 31, the UCI team took a trip to Tuscon, Arizona for its first competition of the year and did exceedingly well.

Out of 10 schools in attendance, including UCLA, Cal Poly Pomona, the U.S. Air Force and Arizona State University, UCI was the only school present at the competition to win more than one team award. All three of UCI’s teams qualified. One-third of all of UCI’s team members won an award.

There were four witness award winners who were acknowledged for their acting abilities; Howard Chang, Tom Collins, Chrissy Kemmer and Andrew Knaufd. Three of the team members won attorney awards and of the top two ranking attorrney awards, both were given to UCI students Andy Tram and Marissa Oxman. Gaya Shanmuganapha also recieved an attorney award.

Mock Trial is a program that was founded five years ago at UCI. Every year, the group, composed of 35 members and divided into three separate teams, is assigned a court case complete with witnesses, evidence and court documents. Using this information, the members can either be actors playing the parts of witnesses or they can be attorneys studying the case in order to argue both the defense and the prosecution at any given moment.

As the season continues, details are added to the case to give advantage to either the defense or the prosecution and make each competition more complex.

This year’s case is called “State of Midlands v. Jackie Owens” and it is a murder trial. According to the case, which was actually written by UCI Mock Trial Coach and UCI Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Justin Bernstein, the case involves three partners of a movie studio company. Allegedly, one of the partners was killed and the other two were accused of being the murderers.

“When doing a mock trial, we do the opening statement to the closing argument. It is everything one would see in the show, ‘Law and Order,’” Mock Trial President and fifth-year Dance and Political Science major Marissa Oxman said.

“Every team is prepared to be the prosecution or defense and you won’t know until 30 minutes before your round starts,” Oxman said.

These cases are designed to be as real as possible and when the students hold the fake trials, they are judged by prominent active judges and lawyers.

“The type of issues we deal with are very real,” Bernstein said. “This develops very real trial skills. Often, the judges will say quite honestly these students are better than a lot of lawyers they see.”

These real-world skills are appreciated by students like Oxman, but so are the valuable real-world contacts that come along with them.

“When you go to any tournament, you have practicing judges and attorneys and law schools send their representatives. Students have even gotten scholarships right on the spot.”

This Nov. 14 and 15, UCI is hosting a Mock Trial invitational called “The Beach Party,” with 16 schools bringing 32 teams to be held on the first floor of the Student Center. Admission is free and according to Oxman around 300 local judges and attorneys will be in attendance to judge the event.
“I have three aspirations for the team: I want them to have fun and learn and be glad they did this. I want them to be known as professional and friendly, and I want them to win the National Championship,” Bernstein said.