A child-protective-services officer is sent to a home to remove a child from his parent’s custody. She opens the door and gets stabbed with a hypodermic needle infected with HIV. Now she’s HIV-positive. How much time in prison should her attacker get?
That’s the question being put before Northwestern’s Mock Trial team as it heads off later this month to its first major competition of the year. The team’s members are more than empty, career-minded suits — Mock Trial demands brains, patience and personality.
“[The judges] look for knowledge of the case, of the evidence and of the rules of law,” ,” says Lul Tesfai, the club’s president. “They also look for interesting perspectives on the case and interesting portrayals of the witnesses.”
Weinberg student Scott Burton plays one of those witnesses: the father of the defendant’s son.
“We met in a bar and she ordered a martini dirty and it was love at first glance,” he says, playing his character during a witness examination.
“Were you ever made aware that she had HIV?” Tesfai asks.
“The HIV?! No way!” Burton says.
This is part of a game played to make examinations more interesting by using odd phrases. Improvisation like this is important in competition, where the ability to call HIV “the hiv” in the witness box wins you kudos.
While most Mock Trial participants hope to be future bar members, other students are interested in medicine, economics and theater.
“There’s no mold,” says Tesfai, a political science and international studies senior who’s eyeing law school. Outside of practice, Mock Trial even becomes a way of life for some. Several members of the senior team live together in the “Mock Trial House,” Tesfai says.
This year, about 30 students are involved in Mock Trial, divided into four teams. At tournaments, each team competes in four rounds, when they are randomly assigned to either the prosecution or defense. From there, they role-play a courtroom scenario for about three hours.
“Mock Trial really stresses public speaking and communicating effectively,” Tesfai says.
With two wins under its belt, NU’s team heads off this month to the first major tournament of the year, a regional competition at Notre Dame and Marquette University that begins Feb. 22. Two teams will go to each university.
Northwestern also hosts the Silver National Tournament. The team pulls out all of the stops, renting a courtroom in Waukegan, Ill., with room for up to 30 teams to compete.
“It’s a really big honor and a really big commitment,” Tesfai says.
Top teams from that competition go on to Gold Nationals, held in April. Members of NU’s top team placed 15th at last year’s competition and look to improve their ranking this year.
“I dreamed once that I’d won the national championship,” jokes David Bouchard, a history and political science senior. “We wish that the laws that govern our courtrooms governed our lives at Northwestern, too.”