It was more than simply arguing the stronger case. PCD's Mock Trial team won the 34th Annual Rhode Island Mock Trial State Championship Tournament because of their diligence, determination, and teamwork.
The new title marks the 4th Mock Trial Championship for Providence Country Day since 2005 and comes as no small feat. For six months – through normal school and homework commitments, athletics and/or music performances, part-time jobs, volunteer positions, week-long field trips, and for seniors, the college application process – the PCD Mock Trial team worked for hours every week preparing trial strategy, writing questions and statements, and memorizing and role-playing the parts of witnesses and attorneys. Yet, it was their past triumphs and failures combined with thorough and thoughtful preparation, and a collaborative approach to public speaking, critical thinking, and creative problem solving that contributed to this season's victory.
"Our team this year included students who have participated in Mock Trial for a number of years," says coach Doug Allen. Nearly half of the PCD team includes juniors and seniors who joined the extracurricular club as freshmen and continued each year. "Their consistent hard work over that time, combined with this year's focus and commitment, is what led to our victory at the 2019 State Championship."
This year's case presented by the Rhode Island Legal Education Foundation and sponsored by American Automobile Association (AAA) Northeast focused on driver safety and the dangers of distracted driving. A high school senior was charged with reckless manslaughter for allegedly texting and driving causing a car collision. Throughout the season, each mock trial team interchangeably plays the prosecution or defense, and must be prepared to act as the attorneys, subject experts, and key witnesses.
For the state finals, PCD was assigned the defense by a coin flip only 24 hours in advance of the tournament. According to jurors at the championship event – which included local practicing attorneys and senior executives from AAA – both the prosecution and defense argued exceptionally through opening/closing remarks, analyzing physical evidence, and questioning the experts. However, it was the preparation and delivery of the witnesses – including the defendant, played by Catherine McLaughlin '19 – that gave PCD the winning edge.
"Both teams had very strong lawyers. Going into the post-season, we understood that putting more prep time into our witnesses could be our advantage," says McLaughlin. It was advice they received from the Harvard Mock Trial team during a seminar program they attended in October in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "As the defendant, we had to find the perfect balance of showing emotion and conveying empathy while still gaining credibility with the jury."
Ultimately, the prosecution, which was assigned to the Wheeler School, could not meet their burden of proof and the jury voted in favor of the defense. Coach Allen commends each student in the group of 13 for their drive and teamwork. "The presentation they delivered at the State Championship trial would not have been what it was without every single person on the team. We could not have had this win without the creativity, tenacity, and devotion that they have demonstrated throughout the entire season."
The victory was achieved by the whole team and the students wholeheartedly agree. In fact, most of the upperclassmen worked throughout the season to train and mentor younger students for the benefit of the current and future mock trial teams.
"They've created a culture on the team that's productive, collaborative, and fun. There is a culture of pride without ego, and ownership without territoriality that the older students modeled by their example," adds Allen. "The team this year continued the positive legacy for the mock trial program at PCD and we could not be prouder."