Second-year Columbus School of Law students Alex Spanos and Aliba Henry (above) were honored with Best Direct Examination at the 2012 Criminal Justice Trial Advocacy Competition, held by Quinnipiac School of Law in New Haven, Connecticut, on Oct. 28.
Eight law schools competed in the 13th annual contest, co-sponsored by the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association. The competition draws teams from around the country and included Barry University, Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law, Brooklyn Law Center, Drexel University, Earle Mack School of Law, Fordham University School of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; and University of Illinois School of Law.
During the event, each team tried the same case twice at the United States District Courthouse in New Haven (left), once as the prosecution and once as the defense.
Neither Spanos nor Henry had any previous trial team or mock trial experience. Yet the judges were clearly impressed by their handling of this year’s problem, a fictitious domestic dispute that ended in the death of a spouse upon the discovery of an adulterous affair. The defense had the options of arguing self-defense, suggesting the defendant's lover had dealt the fatal blow, or pointing a finger at the defendant's teenage child, who had both motive and opportunity to kill the victim.
In the trial scenario, the murder victim's best friend was having an affair with his wife, behavior that does generally not elicit empathy from jurors. Yet Spanos refused to let the jury dismiss his trial character as a snake.
“The thing we did that surprised other teams was trying to make the witness role that I played into a more sympathetic character than teams would expect,” said Spanos.
“Our attitude was to say that if you walk in and see someone [dead] you have a history with and actually care about (despite any wrongs you might have done to him), it's going to hit you like a ton of bricks, and hurt,” Spanos explained. “In fact, it's going to make whatever wrongs you did feel a million times worse when you know you never get the chance to make it right again.”
The gamble paid off with the award of Best Direct Examination by the trial competition judges.
“I think that our winning strategy was making our presentation a performance. I think the judges enjoyed the role Alex played and how realistic we tried to make the direct examination ... it was believable,” said Henry.
Trial competitions offer students the chance to put a case together from start to finish, using all they have learned about trial practice, the rules of evidence, and criminal procedure.
Their initial success has served to convince Spanos and Henry that they are meant for this line of work.
“I know for sure that I want to litigate and be in a court room every single day if I can,” said Spanos. “With each one of these competitions it feels like, at least for me, that I'm getting closer to realizing my dream of doing trial work.”
“Trial competitions are a realistic forum where teams prepare their case and have no idea what opposing counsel's theory will be, what evidence they will try to suppress that may be important to your case and how well they know their rules,” said Henry. “You try to adapt -sometimes you fail, but you learn from your mistakes. It all boiled down to a really intense learning experience.”
Rounding out the CUA Law trial team were Tim McArdle (2L), and Catie O'Neill (3L). The team coaches were Professor Lou Barracato, Jenn Myers, and Annie Khirallah.