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Posted on: November 2, 2021

City Corner Column: Mock trials provide students with hands-on courtroom experience, life lessons

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On Wednesday, a group of bright and talented eighth-grade students will gather at the municipal courtroom to debate the case of a juvenile suspected of having alcohol in his system as he was driving away from a party one night.

The Trinity Episcopal School mock trial will be livestreamed on Facebook at City of Victoria Municipal Court at 9 a.m. Nov. 3. 

Although the case is fictional, the benefits of participating in a mock trial are very real. Students get to work on their critical thinking, persuasive communication and real-world science skills, all while learning more about the justice system and the importance of traffic safety. It’s an experience that is as valuable for them as it is rewarding for me.

I was first bitten by the mock trial bug when I hosted a mock trial during a local school’s summer program. Although it was a fairly simple one-week program, it opened my eyes to the educational potential of these programs.

I began reaching out to schools to see if they would be interested in participating in a mock trial program that would synthesize a variety of subject matters. Today, I regularly host mock trials with eighth-grade students at Trinity Episcopal School and Nazareth Academy. I get to visit the schools a couple of times a week over the course of four or five weeks to help them prepare for the trials.

It’s wonderful to see how excited the students are to participate in the mock trial each year. I get to teach them about the process of a real trial, from opening statements to direct examination, cross examination and closing arguments. As they prepare for the case, they learn how to develop questions, analyze evidence, use courtroom terminology and apply relevant scientific concepts.

Because these students are close to driving age, I try to choose cases that deal with real-world traffic safety issues like impaired or distracted driving. As part of the program, Victoria Police Department officers visit the schools to teach students about field sobriety tests and conduct hands-on activities using impairment goggles.

Earlier this year, the court received the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center’s Traffic Safety Award for using mock trials to raise awareness about the dangers of impaired driving. We also partnered with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to host a traffic safety event at the Children’s Discovery Museum featuring an impaired driving simulator and other hands-on activities.

We would like to host more of these types of events to teach our youth about traffic safety. If you’re interested in partnering with the court to host an event, please fill out our form at www.victoriatx.gov/courtoutreach.

The Trinity Episcopal School mock trial is part of Municipal Court Week, a statewide initiative to promote awareness of local courts through engagement and outreach. On Friday, we will host Java with the Judge at 9 a.m. at Vela Farms. I hope that you will come grab a cup of coffee and let me answer any questions you may have about your local court. 

Vanessa Heinold is the City of Victoria Municipal Court judge.

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