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THE 2013 STATE OF DELAWARE HIGH SCHOOL MOCK TRIAL COMPETITION: MIXES CAUTIONARY TALE WITH SPECTACULAR ADVOCACY PERFORMANCES

A typical soccer teen, 17 year old Paxton was rushing home on a “borrowed” bike with no helmet after 9 p.m., anxious to get home before Mom noticed his absence and in time to walk the family dog. McMasters, an 18 year old driving a Dodge Dakota truck without his seatbelt on, was equally anxious to get his girlfriend home from a friend’s birthday party before her 9.30 p.m. curfew. Both teens had access to alcohol prior to the accident. Both parties may have been riding without lights and failed to properly signal their intent. Paxton had ear buds and may have been listening to music while cycling; McMasters was engaged, directly or through the intermediary of his girlfriend, in a heated text message exchange with a friend. In the battle between truck and bicycle on a left-hand turn, no parties were left undamaged.

Thus was the scene set for this year’s 2013 Mock Trial competition hosted in the New Castle County Courthouse on February 22-23, 2013. The personal injury case of Paxton v. McMasters, however, highlights serious traffic safety issues that affect young adults in Delaware. Alcohol and hand-held devices are significant contributing factors in road crashes and fatalities, especially among teens and young adults. According to the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, four teens aged 16 to 20 were killed in 2011 in alcohol-related crashes and 91 more were injured. Teens and young adults under the age of 25 accounted for 21% of alcohol-related fatalities in 2009; meanwhile, young adults under the age of 30 are involved in 54% of cell phone related crashes. Delaware has experienced a steady rise in the number of pedestrians and bicyclists injured or killed on its roads: 6 bicyclists were killed in 2009; 19 pedestrians were killed in 2011; and 361 pedestrians were injured in 2011. While arguing the merits of the case, some participants may have taken the time to reflect that the physical injuries claimed by both parties – the bicyclist broke his collar bone and suffered a concussion that may have ended a promising soccer career before it even started; the car driver broke his nose and had two black eyes; and the car passenger broke her wrist on the dashboard – are all too real consequences of driving or bicycling while distracted or impaired.

Each school participated in four preliminary rounds and had to try both sides of the case. The two best advocates and two best witnesses were awarded gavels by the judges. A final round, late on Saturday, pitted the finalists and was judged by a panel that included Supreme Court Justice Ridgely. The Charter School of Wilmington was declared the winner at a banquet held after the final round. The Charter School of Wilmington competed at the National Championship in Indianapolis, Indiana on May 9-11, 2013.

This event would not have been possible without the numerous volunteers that stepped forward to help. Participants were judged by judges, attorneys and Widener law students who provided personal feedback to the students. The Delaware Paralegal Association provided volunteer runners. Security officers, bailiffs and court staff volunteered to help throughout the courthouse as greeters, bailiffs, and in any other capacity for which they were called. Thank you and we hope to see you all again next year.

A special thank you goes to Capitol Police who, on the heels of the February 11th incident at the New Castle County Courthouse, accommodated Mock Trial activities and processed the influx of participants as quickly and securely as possible. We also thank court staff, volunteers, participants, coaches, and family members for their patience and support.

For further information, contact franny.haney@state.de.us

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