Myki Dee Kim, Staff Writer
In 2013, Adjunct Professor Teri Herold-Prayer was amazed at the sharpness of her Criminal Justice 101 (CJ 101) class. Believing in her student’s capabilities, professor Herold-Prayer decided to give her class six weeks to prepare a professional mock interview trial. That single six week long assignment has turned into a staple of her class. Students now have the whole semester to conduct research and eventually present the prosecution or defense, respectively. This year’s mock trial will be held on Thursday Nov. 21, at 4:30 p.m. in Harned Hall 110.
While attending Eastern Washington University, Herold-Prayer was on the university’s mock trial team that competed against 16 other universities, including Gonzaga University and Stanford University. Inspired by her collegiate experience, Herold-Prayer wanted to bring the mock trials to campus. Saint Martin’s has never had a consistent mock trial program ever conducted at the university. She hopes that one day she will have dedicated students to create a viable team who would be determined to compete at the national level against bigger schools. She believes that in order to be in the Criminal Justice field, individuals must have an understanding of the adversarial system that most people do not experience until actually going to trial. It is important to understand both sides.
Two teams are broken up at the beginning of the semester, one being the prosecution and the other being the defense. Teams consist of attorneys, witnesses, a paralegal team, and an evidence team. This year, the defense has eight teammates and the prosecution has ten teammates. After being divided into teams, Herold-Prayer recalls that as the semester progresses and the trials gets closer, students organically self-separate from the opposing side and create a clear division as to which students are the prosecution and which are the defense.
While conducting the actual mock trials, the event is taken seriously, as if students are in an actual courtroom. Students are expected to exemplify courtroom decorum in demeanor and professional attire. Witnesses are also encouraged to dress in their “character.” Three jury members are present at the actual mock trials, including student Nina Meamon and two individuals from the Department of Corrections. Jury members review the case and score teams on different criteria. While the scores are summed up, representatives from the Department of Corrections will explain to both sides what they saw and what they were looking for while evaluating the court claims. While the trial is conducted, Herold-Prayer will act as the timekeeper and stay out of decision-making processes to ensure equity for her students. For the first time ever, this year’s mock trial will have a real judge, Judge Greer, present and acting as the mock trial judge. At the end of the trial, awards will be distributed. These awards will include best attorney, best witness, best opening, best closing, and most valuable contributor to work, which is the only award voted on by respective teams for their top player.
Mock trial cases vary from year to year. Cases selected are legitimate mock trial cases that other colleges and universities have put together. Cases selected address very specific issues. Previous cases have included battered wife syndrome, college students utilizing a cell phone while driving that struck and killed an elementary school student, and college hazing.
This year’s case is a different college hazing that comes from the Illinois State Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitational. The case regards a traditional co-ed greek organization that was on the last day of their pledge week. Pledging individuals participated in events throughout pledge week known as the “Pledge Olympics.” The last event was one that was dreaded the most by pledges as it was something known as water jeopardy.
While participating in water jeopardy, “Instead of earning points for correct answers, the goal was to avoid drinking water from a row of five gallon water coolers placed along the wall.”
Penalty for a wrong answer resulted in students having to take a drink of water for a period based on the value of the question. Failing to put the answer in question form resulted in a longer drinking period. The greek organization shifted from their former practices of chugging beer as it went against university policy. A pledge by the name of Jessica Bates partook in water jeopardy and consumed a large amount of water, passed out, and was eventually examined by Emergency Medical Services due to being unresponsive. After being transported to the local hospital, Bates died within two hours after collapsing and never regained consciousness. An autopsy report stated that she died by swollen brain that was caused by acute hypothermia due to the overconsumption of water. After the investigation, police charged Taylor Cartwright, the individual in charge of the event. Cartwright was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and hazing. It is now up to the Saint Martin’s criminal justice class to defend or prosecute Bates and Cartwright respectively.
Family, friends, peers, professors, and administration are welcome to attend the mock trials. The only thing asked of spectators is that they remain quiet and respectful during the trial. This is to respect the students defending their cases, and for the judge and jury to be able to hear and properly evaluate each side of the case.
The annual mock trials have created a long-standing tradition for the criminal justice department and the Saint Martin’s community at large. Students work tirelessly to ensure that what they are bringing to the table is their absolute best work. Make sure to go and support the CJ 101 students in their mock trial process.