Alternatives to in-person mock trials in forensic science education


  • John P. Mabry University of Central Oklahoma, Forensic Science Institute
  • Jennifer Schmitz The University of Central Oklahoma, Forensic Science Institute


mock trial, cross-examination, direct examination, lay witness, expert witness, testimony


While mock trials are widely recognized as an effective teaching tool in preparing forensic students to testify in court, the move to online curriculums, increased enrollment, and alternative delivery methods  have limited the practical use of this valuable tool. In response, the Forensic Science Institute (FSI) at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), in cooperation with the UCO Center for eLearning and Connected Environments, has developed a Virtual Mock Trial exercise which places students in a virtual courtroom to testify as witnesses. Two simple scenarios have been developed - a lay witness scenario and an expert witness voir dire scenario.  In the lay witness scenario, the student assumes the role of a Crime Scene Technician and testifies regarding the processing of a scene and the evidentiary foundation for the admission of a firearm.  In the second scenario, the student assumes the role of an expert in firearms and toolmark analysis and responds to questions posed in the voir dire process to qualify as an expert.  For each scenario, students are given a set of facts and personal qualifications which form the basis of their testimony.  They then enter the virtual courtroom through the UCO learning platform and type their responses to the questions posed by attorneys representing each side.  At the conclusion of each exercise, the program produces transcripts of the testimony for the instructor to grade and critique.  This article describes creation and implementation of such scenarios as viable alternatives when live mock trials are not an option.   

Author Biographies

John P. Mabry, University of Central Oklahoma, Forensic Science Institute

John P. Mabry, J.D., served 24 years as a Special Agent, Supervisory Special Agent, and Chief Division Counsel for the FBI. His duty assignments included Norfolk, Virginia; Houston, Texas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and as a Profiler in the Child Abduction and Serial Killer Unit (BAU) at Quantico, Virginia. During his FBI career, Mabry worked and supervised primarily violent crimes, to include serial homicides, child abductions (U.S. and international), bank robberies, fugitives and organized crime. He served as a sniper on the FBI SWAT teams in the Norfolk and Houston Divisions of the FBI, and as an FBI Firearms Instructor as well. In the aftermath of 9-11, Mabry assumed a supervisory role in both the foreign counterintelligence and terrorism programs of the FBI. He is a recipient of the Excellence in Investigations Award from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Mabry received a B.S. in Accounting from the University of Tennessee (1981) and a J.D. from the University of Alabama (1984). Prior to joining the FBI, he served as a law clerk for the Honorable Judge Peter T. Fay, United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Miami, FL.

Mabry retired from the FBI in 2009 to join the faculty of the UCO Forensic Science Institute and the School of Criminal Justice. 

Jennifer Schmitz, The University of Central Oklahoma, Forensic Science Institute

Jennifer Schmitz, J.D., served 22 years as a special agent for the FBI, before retiring from the Oklahoma City Field Office.  Upon graduating from Quantico, she was assigned to the New York City Field Office and ultimately returned to Oklahoma City, where she finished her career.  As a special agent, Schmitz worked primarily on Domestic and International Terrorism but has experience in working with Italian Organized Crime (Mafia), complex drug investigations and human trafficking.  Her work has included cases such as the explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800, the search for suspected Olympic Bomber and fugitive, Eric Rudolf and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.  During her career as a special agent,  Schmitz was considered a subject matter expert in matters of domestic terrorism extremism and provided legal support for all FBI criminal and national security matters while serving in the FBI Office of Chief Division Counsel.  

Schmitz received a B.A. from the Oklahoma State University and a Juris Doctorate (Law) degree from the University of Oklahoma. Prior to joining the FBI, she worked as an assistant district attorney for the 22nd District and as an associate in a private law firm.  She joined the Forensic Science Institute team in 2018, after retiring from the FBI.