Under the watchful eyes of real judges and attorneys, Atlantis students got a first-hand look at how the U.S. legal system works as members of the school’s first-ever Mock Trial Team.
The seven-member team, made up of freshmen and sophomore girls, competed in the regional round of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s High School Mock Trial Tournament last month. The Atlantis students and their peers from nearby schools took on the roles of prosecutors, defense attorneys and witnesses and presented a hypothetical case inside a courtroom at the Fall River Justice Center.
Zoey Dupras, Evelyn Brown and Ariana Almonte played attorneys; Kaliyah Martinez, Cassidy Pavao and Madison Stevens acted as witnesses; and Alexis Cabral presented opening statements and closing arguments for Atlantis.
“The first time I spoke in the courtroom I was a little nervous,” said ninth-grader Evelyn Brown. “But once we got started, my confidence started to build and I was able to speak clearly, argue my case, and communicate with my fellow attorneys.”
This year’s case was a criminal case involving mistaken identity, resulting in a police officer’s alleged use of deadly force.
“Our client was Matt Hart. He was charged with using excessive force, and we had to defend him,” explained ninth-grader Ariana Almonte. “I’ve learned a lot from this experience. It’s not at all like what you see in the movies.”
The big questions at play in this case were whether the officer’s use of deadly force was objectively reasonable and if not, whether the police officer’s use of excessive force was willful. Each school argued the same case, and Atlantis held its own against older, more experienced teams like Bishop Connolly.
“It was a little intimidating to know that we were freshmen just starting out,” said ninth-grader Madison Stevens who played Matt Hart in the mock trial. “We faced Bishop Connolly who has been a team for over 15 and we only lost by eight points, so it was pretty satisfying.”
Teacher Linda Simanski formed the extracurricular team to give students an avenue to show off their intellectual skill and capability.
Most of the students on the team are interested in becoming attorneys, but Simanski says the skills they gain from this experience will benefit them throughout life.
“Students are learning how to argue productively and effectively, they’re learning about logic, and they’re learning how to communicate with people,” Simanski said. “Those skills go beyond any particular career. There are going to be times in your life when you have to speak in public, whether you’re giving a speech at a wedding, a eulogy at a funeral, or interviewing for a job, you’re going to be in front of people and in many cases you’re going to be making persuasive arguments.”
The Mock Trial Team met after school five days a week to learn the case material. The pseudo attorneys rehearsed the questions they would ask, and the mock witnesses rehearsed the answers they would give, doing their best to anticipate the opposing team’s questions.
“At Atlantis, we are working to prepare our students for success in college and in 21st century careers,” said Michael Lauro, associate executive director of Atlantis. “We introduce students to in-demand jobs through our Career Academies, but now we are able to continue that work outside the classroom with experiences like Mock Trial.”
Mock trials are judged on a point system by actual lawyers and judges who volunteer their time. The top team from each of the 32 geographic regions will move on to the next round in March at Clark University in Worcester. The field will be cut in half after each round until only two teams remain. Those two teams will compete in the State Final on March 22 at the Great Hall at Faneuil Hall in Boston. The state champion will go on to compete for the national title in Athens, GA in May.
“It’s been very interesting to go through the process and learn the legal terms,” said tenth-grader Zoey Dupras. “I got to know my team pretty well through this experience.”
Atlantis won one out of three trials in the regional round. The team is very proud of the work they did and they are looking forward to next season.