“Rush Mock Trial!”
Written by Jacquelyn Eubanks
“Have you ever seen the show Better Call Saul?” Mason Aberle, ’20, asked me. We were casually chatting in the Union, sunk into cozy, brown leather chairs behind the big fireplace. “It’s a great show.”
“Maybe I’ve heard of it,” I said, thinking that I might have it mistaken for something else. I was vaguely distracted by the hum of conversations in AJ’s Cafe behind me.
“Well, there’s this scene in one of the episodes where they’re talking about one of the trials, and one woman says, ‘How can they get this piece of evidence in? That’s a 403 issue – it’s more prejudicial than it is probative.’ Anybody who’s done Mock Trial at the college level can tell you, ‘Oh yeah, 403!’ It means the evidence they’re trying to admit unfairly prejudices that client in the jury’s mind and outweighs any probative value that that evidence might have.”
Mason, as you might guess, is one of the team captains for Hillsdale College’s Mock Trial. A captain, and it’s only his second year.
Impressed, I asked him if his Mock Trial experience was especially Hillsdalian, unique to mock trial teams on other college campuses. He paused, thought for a few minutes, and then recalled a particular moment of victory that sounded like it came straight from a movie:
His first tournament took place at Michigan State in fall 2017, and when his team got to the final round, they knew it was gonna be a tough one. They were in MSU’s beautiful mock courtroom in their law school building, a district court judge was presiding, and they were on defense. Their opener, junior Dan Henreckson, got up—the prosecution went up before him, as always—and said, “Members of the jury, you just heard a fantastic story from prosecution, and my client doesn’t deny any of it!’”
As soon as the words came out of his mouth, Mason looked down at the other team’s counsel table. They were all wide-eyed and open-mouthed. The rest of the trial was a combination of the Hillsdale attorneys and witnesses carefully explaining that the prosecution couldn’t prove any of it.
“Once you take someone’s ‘smoking gun,’ so to speak, and put it on themselves, it’s game over,” Mason said. I laughed, still impressed. The idea of going up in front of judges and making a bold, shocking claim both scared and amazed me. I wished I could do something like that.
The story wasn’t over. Once the prosecution finishes, there’s a recess, then the defense does their case. After the recess, Mason came back in the courtroom to find thirty more people in the room than before. As it turned out, the judge presiding over the trial was the MSU Mock Trial team’s coach. The coach had told his team to watch the rest of this round, and after the trial was over, he told Mason’s team, “I’m unashamedly stealing your theory. It’s the best one I’ve heard.”
I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty much sold. The challenge, the public speaking aspect, and the comradery of the team had me wishing I’d signed up years ago.
I left my conversation with Mason promising I would join the team next year. But it was something junior Lauren Eicher, Mock Trial’s social and recruitment chair, said that had me totally convinced.
“A lot of people are worried that if they’ve never done it before, they won’t be able to make the team or won’t be good enough. Look at Mason! He never did it before. Last year was his first time, and he ended up being our top-scoring attorney. Point is, we build you up and help you along the way. You’re not alone at any point. I’d say, ‘Rush Mock Trial!’”
Jacquelyn Eubanks, ‘20, is a politics major with a penchant for writing. She spends most of her time as a coffee-sipping novelist dreaming of life as a fast-paced urbanite à la Friends. You can find her currently on social media (@TheJackyEubanks) and hopefully someday atop a mountain.
Published in February 2019