Mock Trial tackles human trafficking, places 2nd in Sacramento County, most competitive district

Chardonnay Needler
Senior Shriya Nadgauda reviews her pre-trial statement as junior Smita Sikaria readies her timekeeping equipment before the trial against Elk Grove High School.

“All rise,” a booming voice shouts in the Robert T. Matsui Courthouse in downtown Sacramento.

The “State v. Aubrey” case is in session.

Lynn Stark, a middle-aged immigrant from the country of Tantara, is being overworked, underpaid and unfairly treated by her boss and the owner of Taste of Tantara, Cameron Aubrey.

So Stark takes Aubrey to court on the grounds of human trafficking.

At the county courthouse, tensions are high and points thoroughly argued.

Except this case isn’t real.

This case is what earned the SCDS Mock Trial team second place in Sacramento County, one of the most competitive districts in the league.

The case was created by the Constitutional Rights Foundation (CRF) and formulated into a script as the Mock Trial case for 2016-17.

Stark and Aubrey were both played by sophomore Gabi Alvarado; the attorneys were really senior Jaelan Trapp and sophomore Jack Christian; the pre-trial attorney was senior Shriya Nadgauda; and the expert on human trafficking was sophomore Blake Lincoln.

That’s not to say that this case of an overburdened immigrant was far from reality, though.

In fact, Mock Trial coach Wayne Strumpfer, who worked at the Victim Compensation Board last year, said he has dealt with real-life cases like Stark’s.

“There was a Christmas-tree farmer who needed labor to cut down trees in the fall,” Strumpfer said.

“He got these immigrants from Mexico, and he trafficked them by making them work 18-20 hours a day, giving them little food and even keeping them at gunpoint.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the scripted story isn’t preposterous, as the CRF creates cases parallel to what’s happening in the news.

According to Strumpfer, several laws have recently been passed in California to sentence human traffickers, about half of which are involved in prostitution.

And unlike prostitution, proving someone is being trafficked and not simply overworked requires more than just evidence.

In fact, according to co-captain and MVP Trapp, what separated this case from previous ones was that vagueness.

“It’s harder than last year’s (case) because last year was a murder, so there’s someone that killed someone –  not as much ambiguity,” Trapp said.

Last year’s case, involving a college student who killed an abusive police officer, was analogous to the events that happened in Ferguson, Missouri.

In fact, according to Strumpfer, 50 percent of CRF cases are murders in which students learn the difference between manslaughter and murder, not so much whether the crime actually happened.

“With human trafficking, you can’t even be sure if someone has been trafficked or not, let alone who did it,” Trapp said.

“In this case you had to prove whether or not the crime happened in the first place.”

According to Strumpfer, there is a fine line between “overworking an immigrant who hadn’t been in America very long via a misunderstanding” and human trafficking.

As Trapp and Christian were attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense, they had to grapple with both sides.

Chardonnay Needler
Senior Jaelan Trapp finishes his trial notes minutes before the final trial against Elk Grove High School at the Robert T. Matsui Courthouse, Feb. 27. Coach Wayne Strumpfer said Trapp preferred working alone, silently constructing his trial arguments.

“For the prosecution (we) had to prove that the defendant had intent to falsely imprison and human traffic,” Trapp said.

“We had to go into the mind of Cameron Aubrey.”

According to Trapp, there were many facts on file that didn’t make sense from the prosecution’s view, such as: “Why did Aubrey give Stark a key to the apartment she was restrained in?” and “Why did Aubrey give Stark free meals?”

Also, Stark never ran away from the restaurant Taste of Tantara.

“We came up with the idea that  even when she was in Tantara, people always had to provide for her family,” Trapp said.

“That’s why she didn’t run away.”

These facts, Trapp said, make the prosecution’s argument harder to execute, as the defense doesn’t have to argue anything.

“Every little fact sheds doubt on the prosecution, who has to prove ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that the defendant had intent,” Trapp said.

“‘Beyond a reasonable doubt’ (means) more than 80- or 90-percent sure.”

And proving intent “beyond a reasonable doubt” required research during and outside of the Sunday Mock Trial practices.

Strumpfer and the team get the case in September, and shortly after, Strumpfer reads the case and begins finding relevant testimonies to comprehend the argument.

Strumpfer said he instructs the students in subjects that are taught in university law courses.

“I teach the kids the law and understanding objections,” Strumpfer said.

“(I teach subjects like) what’s hearsay, what’s relevant and why. They learn how to understand the nuances of the opening statement and the closing argument.

“(For) understanding objections, understanding hearsay and those other types of rules, you either know (them) or you don’t.”

In addition, Strumpfer teaches public speaking skills.

“They need to be comfortable public speakers, comfortable talking in front of large crowds,” Strumpfer said.

He also has to ensure that the team’s performance does not sound scripted.

“They need to learn to be believable,” Strumpfer said.

“It’s all scripted, but you have to make it look like it’s not scripted. You have a two- to three-page script, but you’ve got to make it look like it’s you – very natural.”

And just as in real court cases, some witnesses on both sides may forget to state a certain piece of evidence.

So Mock Trial attorneys have to think critically and look at the facts, the law and how they fit together, both in court and in the humble SCDS library on Sunday mornings.

By Chardonnay Needler

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