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BYU Trial Advocacy team wins national criminal law competition

A trial advocacy team from Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School placed first at the John C. Costello National Criminal Law Trial Advocacy Competition sponsored by George Mason University Law School, and a second BYU team made it to the semifinal round.

BYU was the only school out of 24 participating universities to have more than one team advance to the semifinal round.

Nicholas Lawrence, law clerk for the Honorable John Thatcher, judged some of the rounds during the competition. He commended the thought and preparation the BYU teams gave to this competition.

“I was very impressed with the amount of work they put into preparing for the competition and the seriousness in which they took it,” Lawrence said.

The first-place team members include Ryan McBride, Elizabeth Thompson and Kennard Keeton. The semifinalist team consisted of Josh Chandler, Matthew Morrise and David Stott.

Thompson, a member of the winning team, said the competition was both intense and challenging.

“The judges had a very complicated scoring sheet and said they had to go down to point fractions because the teams were so close,” Thompson said.

The scores are based on individual criteria such as cross- and direct-examination skills, opening and closing statements, evidence-sharing knowledge and demonstrating courtroom demeanor. Trial Ad is a valuable tool to help students prepare to enter a real courtroom and practice law.

“Trial Ad is very helpful in preparing people to practice because it allows them to practice courtroom skills and legal theories and concepts in practical ways,” Lawrence said.

Most Trial Ad competitions are civil trials, and the teams have the opportunity to participate in both the prosecution and defense roles. This competition was different because it was a criminal trial with each team maintaining their prosecution or defense role.

“It was a very first of its kind for trial advocacy competitions,” Thompson said. “In most Trial Ad competitions you have to prepare both the plaintiff and the defense. It’s not realistic because no one in the real world prepares both sides of a trial, nor has all the information, particularly about the defense.”

Kennard Keeton was also a member of the winning team and felt the hardest part of the competition was the uncertainty of the situation.

“You didn’t know what some of your witnesses were going to say,” Keeton said. “In most competitions you already know all the cards the other team is holding. In this one, since this was supposed to simulate a real criminal trial, they actually withheld a lot of information so you got surprises. The format was unique, and that made it interesting.”

Another valuable part of Trial Ad is the opportunity to learn from seasoned lawyers and judges.

“The feedback was the most valuable part,” Keeton said. “The competition had some great judges who had a lot of experience in a lot of criminal trials under their belt. They were able to give real constructive, real-life feedback.”

To prepare for the competition, the BYU teams met once a week with the Honorable Dee Benson Judge, United States District Court Judge Dee Benson and Judge Paul M. Warner Judge of the United States District Court. During these meetings they went over their openings, closings and examinations. They also ran two practice trials.

Writer: Marsha Stoutenberg

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