When UCLA School of Law’s A. Barry Cappello Trial Team started to prepare for its latest competition this semester, they considered the difficult issue at the core of the case, having to do with Miranda rights, and immediately knew whom they should consult.
"The case turns on whether a criminal defendant's confession is admissible," says Justin Bernstein, who coaches the trial team. "The students had been doing the research, and our discussion had been fruitful. But it has been 17 years since I took Criminal Procedure. So, I thought: Why not get help from an expert?"
As it happened, the expert they needed was close at hand.
UCLA Law Professor Beth Colgan teaches Criminal Procedure and Criminal Law, has received the law school's Rutter Award for Excellence in Teaching, and has been selected by graduating students as Professor of the Year. An authority in the very area that Bernstein and his students were confronting during the competition, with substantial experience as a scholar and practitioner in criminal law and procedure, Colgan gladly joined in preparing the team for their courtroom contest.
“It was such a delight to get to speak with the trial team about the problem this year, which raised interesting questions about when a person does or does not have to be Mirandized,” says Colgan, who currently serves as UCLA Law’s vice dean of faculty and intellectual life.
Natalie Garson ’22, found Colgan’s help to be invaluable. "Professor Colgan’s assistance in developing our Fifth Amendment motion prepared us for every argument we faced," Garson says. "We went into each trial knowing the law in a comprehensive way, giving us an edge in front of experienced criminal judges."
The hard work paid off during the opening round of the 47th National Trial Competition, which was held virtually on the first weekend of February. Thanks to their collaboration with Colgan, both of UCLA Law’s teams won a pivotal constitutional motion while acting as both prosecutors and defense attorneys. And by the end of the weekend, UCLA Law’s squad had won the Southern California regional contest and qualified both of its teams for the championship tournament in April.
“I was impressed with how thoughtfully the team approached the problem and their commitment to understanding the doctrine,” Colgan says. “I was happy, though not at all surprised, to hear how well they had done in the competition.”
The National Trial Competition is the country's oldest, and it is presented annually by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers. UCLA Law’s trial team is the defending national champion and has been ranked No. 1 in the country for two straight years.
Garson '22 and Stephen Johnson '22 formed one UCLA team. Enrico Trevisani '22 and Regina Campbell '23 made up the other. Nationally, prosecution teams won 35% of their trials and defense sides won 65%. But UCLA won 100% of its trials on both sides of the case. Each region has two bids to the national championship tournament, and, for second straight year, UCLA Law claimed both of the Southern California bids.
Bernstein, who directs UCLA Law’s A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy, coached the team with Amanda Mundell, an appellate attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, and Rahul Hari, a trial attorney at Wilkinson Stekloff.
UCLA Law and the University of San Diego School of Law co-hosted the tournament, and many UCLA Law students participated as witnesses and bailiffs: Kenny Capesius '22, Seth Wacks '22, Sarah Stebbins '23, Amanda Boyd '23, Shasta Fields '23, Kathryn Rosenfeld '23, Anna Nabutovsky '23, Andrew Hill '22, Kevin Shang '22, Rocky Maas '22, Christian Cotter '23, Will Lorenzen '23, Phil Raucci '23, Celebre Fouka-Nganga '23, Edouard Goguillon '24, Sydney Gaskins '24, and Peter Jones '24. UCLA undergraduate Connor Wright, who competes on UCLA's undergrad trial team, also volunteered as bailiff.
Bernstein was impressed by the community effort.
“More trial team members volunteered to help host this event than were even in the entire Cappello Program four years ago,” Bernstein says. “And Professor Colgan sharing her time and expertise really speaks to the collaborative culture at UCLA Law.”