High school students head to virtual court

Staff report

SCIOTO — Students across the state will take their place in front of the camera to take part in the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education’s (OCLRE) 38th Annual Ohio Mock Trial Competition.

The competition will take place online on January 22, 23, 28, and 30 with roughly thirty trials each day. Even during these difficult times, students are eager to show off their hard work in the virtual courtroom.

Local students are participating from Portsmouth, Portsmouth West, Wheelersburg, South Webster, Ironton, St. Joseph high schools. South Central Ohio Educational Service Center Gifted Services Coordinator Sharee Price will act as a facilitator for the mock trial by virtually hosting a series of district competitions.

The 2021 Ohio Mock Trial case takes an inside look at the justice system by examining what prosecutors are required to disclose during plea negotiations. In 2019, the fictitious case centers on Micah Opessa, who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of their former best-friend, Haumea Robins. A year into their sentence, Micah learns that the main eyewitness to the crime recanted their testimony. Now, Micah has filed a motion to withdraw their guilty plea, claiming the prosecutor violated Micah’s constitutional rights by knowingly withholding this information when they offered Micah a plea deal. The Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland requires the prosecution to overturn exculpatory evidence during trial. In this Mock Trial case, students will argue whether this precedent also applies to plea negotiations.

OCLRE Mock Trial Program Coordinator, Danielle Wilmot, explains that this year’s case “was inspired in part by the New York Times Best Seller Charged by Emily Bazelon. Charged presented for OCLRE a great opportunity to turn a complicated topic into a learning experience. Plea deals account for so many convictions in the justice system and this year’s case will challenge students to examine how the process works.”

Each Ohio Mock Trial team consists of five to eleven students who assume the roles of witnesses and attorneys to present both sides of an original, unscripted case based on a constitutional issue. Each team competes in two trials against opposing teams. More than 1,000 legal professionals serve as volunteer judges, competition coordinators, and team advisors. Ohio Mock Trial is Ohio’s largest high school academic competition and among the largest high school mock trial programs in the nation.

Because of current COVID-19 restrictions and safety concerns, the 2021 Mock Trial Competition will take place via Zoom. This allows students and volunteers to remain safely in their homes, classrooms, or workspaces while still interacting in real time. Teams that advance from the District Competition will compete in the Regional Competition on February 19 or 20. Regional winners will compete in the State Competition March 11-13. The 2021 state champion team will represent Ohio at the National High School Mock Trial Competition which will take place virtually May 13-16, hosted by the Indiana Bar Foundation.

Staff report