Each year Utah Law Related Education hosts a mock trial program for middle school and high school students in the state of Utah.

Mock trial is a great way to introduce young adults to the American legal system. Their experience can prepare and inspire them to be responsible citizens and future leaders.

Mock trial participants learn about trial procedures, rules of evidence, and legal analysis and argumentation. Participants have the opportunity to hone their skills in public speaking and persuasion. This is my second year judging, and every time I go to a mock trial I am impressed with the amount of talent and preparation that the competitors exhibit.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons to be learned at mock trial is that in every trial one of the parties bears the burden of proof. In every criminal trial, the state must prove that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high burden and reflects the American value that each person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The legal scholar Sir William Blackstone famously said, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

In civil disputes, there is also a burden of proof. Generally, the person seeking relief from the court must prove that the preponderance of the evidence supports their claims. For example, suppose that your landlord thinks you violated the terms of a lease agreement because you have a cat in your house. You know that you did not violate the lease agreement because the lease does not mention pets. If the landlord sues you for breach of contract, she bears the burden of proof. She must prove that (1) there was a contract, (2) you violated the terms of the contract, and (3) she was hurt by the breach. If the landlord fails to prove any one of these elements, then she is not entitled to any relief. Because the landlord cannot prove that you violated one of the terms of the lease agreement, she should lose at trial.

Students in mock trial learn that the law is not based on conjecture or speculation. It is based on evidence and proof. The only way to prevail at trial is to present reliable evidence and meet the burden of proof imposed by law.

For more information about how you can become involved in mock trial, either as a participant or volunteer, contact Victoria Dyatt at lawrelatedvictoria@xmission.com.