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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Capitol City Challenge Unveils New and Unique Challenge!

Every spring for the past five years, the American University Washington College of Law ("WCL") Stephen S. Weinstein Trial Advocacy Program, along with the Mock Trial Honor Society, hosts the Capitol City Challenge mock trial competition in Washington, D.C..  18 of the nation's top trial advocacy schools compete in 3 preliminary rounds, a quarter-final, semi-final and final round.  The competition begins on Thursday night with a "challenge" ceremony to determine the first round pairings.  Teams draw numbers at random and have the opportunity to select the team they choose to compete against in the first round.  

This year, WCL is incorporating a new, innovative "challenge" not yet done at any other trial competition.   In order to simulate a realistic trial experience for the teams competing in the final round,  an abbreviated jury voir dire will occur before the final round so the finalists may choose their evaluators.  The voir dire process will take approximately 30 minutes and not be scored by the evaluators.    The voir dire will proceed in the following fashion:
·         There will be a panel of potential evaluators.  None of the panel members have seen the finalists in previous rounds.
·         Prior to the beginning of the voir dire, each team will be given copies of the answers to a jury questionnaire that was completed by each panelist. 
·         The teams will be given 10 minutes to review the questionnaire responses without the panel present in the courtroom.
·         The jury panel will enter the courtroom after the 10 minutes has passed.
·         The presiding judge in the final round will proceed to ask voir dire questions.  No team member will be allowed to ask any questions during voir dire.
·         After the in-court questioning, each team will have an unlimited number of strikes “for cause” and 3 preemptory strikes.
·         All strikes will occur in a private conference with the teammates and the presiding judge.  
·         Strikes for cause will be determined in the judge’s discretion.
·         “For cause” challenges should include arguments and reasons as to why an advocate believes a prospective juror could not be impartial and fair.  Any arguments will not be shared with the jury panel. 
·         Since all evaluators will be lawyers and judges, the presiding judge will not grant a strike for cause based solely on occupation.
·         The 3 preemptory strikes can be used by either team for any reason which need not be disclosed. 
·         A team need not utilize all 3 preemptory strikes.
·         The jury panel that will hear and evaluate the final round will consist of a minimum of 3 evaluators.

We are interested in your thoughts and comments about this unique "challenge" and realistic opportunity for the law students participating in the Capitol City Challenge.  Please feel free to email directly at advocacy@wcl.american.edu or follow any of the links above for more information.


  1. Liz,

    I think the abbreviated voir dire you've written about in your post (http://advocacyteaching.blogspot.com/2013/01/capitol-city-challenge-unveils-new-and.html) sounds like an exciting innovation. I like the idea of the contestants using voir dire challenges to help shape the jury panel that judges them in the final round.

    Although I personally prefer voir dire in which attorneys conduct most of the questioning (this is what I experienced in the military and is standard practice in the state courts in our law school's region), I think your approach realistically duplicates what many attorneys now experience in the courtroom, particularly in federal court, where judges impose severe limits on attorney voir dire. I'm interested to see how this works out and hope you will blog about it at the close of the Capitol City Challenge. Good luck!


  2. Thanks Chris! I, too, am used to the ability to conduct the questioning as an attorney but we decided that we do not want the evaluators and judges to "score" the advocates based on the voir dire. At least not this year. Perhaps if this is successful we will incorporate it into the scoring sheet in future years and allow the advocates the opportunity to conduct the questioning themselves.

    I will definitely follow up after the competition and update all of you about how it went.