Mock Trials Give Houston High School Students Opportunity To Practice Law

This week, students from two Houston high schools are getting an inside look into our legal system. And not just a look, they’re active participants in it.

mock defense attorney
Mock defense attorney

A typical day at the Harris County Criminal Courthouse. A defense attorney cross-examines a witness for the prosecution.

“And you say that, uh, three of the street lights were out, correct?”

“Correct.”

“So it would be reasonable to say that it was quite dark outside and it was hard to see.”

“Yes.”

What’s different about this trial is that it’s a mock trial and most of its participants are high school students. To be exact, they’re juniors and seniors at St. Agnes and Strake Jesuit high schools.

It’s part of the two Catholic schools’ co-ed class “Intro to Law.” “Co-ed” because St. Agnes is a girls school and Strake Jesuit is boys only.

While prosecutor, defense attorney, witnesses and jurors are students, the judge is real.

In this case it’s Judge Paula Goodhart of Harris County Criminal Court No. 3.

“I just think it’s a great opportunity for them to get out of their traditional school environment and actually come down to the courthouse where real live events are taking place every day. I mean, this is an actual courtroom.”

In addition to the instruction by their teacher, the students are coached by real attorneys like Assistant District Attorney Luis Batarse, who’s helping the defense teams.

“I explained to them what the defense’s obligation is. That the state’s burden is to prove the case. Some of the basics of the legal system here. Some of the practical things they have to do in court, you know, whether they have to be seated or standing, where the witnesses are.”

This case is a hit-and-run trial where the defendant is charged with leaving the scene without rendering aid to a bicyclist she hit with her car.

After about an hour and a half, it’s time for the attorneys’ final statements. First, Joseph Cantu for the defense.

“The state is not proving that Adrian was the driver, and Quinn is very clearly not able to accurately identify what was actually the license plate of the car that drove by. And for all these reasons, I urge a not guilty verdict.”

And here’s the prosecution, represented by Brianka Yzaguirre.

“Cameron was the only man whose life was placed in front of a social need to text other friends, whose life is now forever going to be associated with that hit, with that run. He can no longer bike anymore without remembering the pain that the defendant has caused him.”

Jordan Nassif acts as the foreperson
Jordan Nassif acts as the foreperson

After a 10-minute deliberation, the jury renders the verdict, read by foreperson Jordan Nassif.

“We, the jury, find the defendant, Miss Vega, guilty of the charges which are ... hit-and-run.”

When Judge Goodhart asks the students afterward who is eyeing a legal career, several students raise their hands.

For Julie Vu, the class showed her what she doesn’t want to do.

“No, after this I ... a little too stressful for my liking, so I don’t think I’ll be going into law.”

Mock trials will take place at the criminal and the civil courthouse through Thursday, Dec. 12.

Bio photo of Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Reporter/NewsLab Coordinator

Florian Martin is the KUHF NewsLab Coordinator. While guiding and overseeing interns, he works on his own stories and is always on call to cover breaking news and other media events...