Television shows and movies tend to focus on opening statements and closing arguments of the trial because they can carry a lot of dramatic weight.  Yet, you should be aware that the most important part of a trial is not typically the opening statement or closing argument.  Rather, the most important part of a trial is the evidence that comes in during the trial.  That evidence is in the form of both witness testimony and any physical evidence like the drugs themselves. court attorney

Opening statements and closing arguments are merely an opportunity for each side’s attorney to try to organize or emphasize the evidence that best supports his or her side of the case.  Remember, openings and closings are not evidence.  In fact, during a trial, the judge will remind the jury of that fact often.  Thus, even though openings and closings are major parts of a criminal trial, their impact can vary; and they typically take a back seat to the significance of the evidence itself.

The Opening Statement 

As a threshold matter, note that the opening is called the “opening statement.”  It is not an “opening argument” because there is no evidence before the jury yet.  So, there is really nothing to argue about just yet.  The opening statement, rather, is an opportunity for the attorney from each side to introduce himself or herself to the jury, and to set the stage for what is to come. 

That concept of “setting the stage” is important.  No evidence has been introduced, so the attorneys should avoid making too many references to evidence that “will be” presented.  Instead, the opening statement is meant to have each attorney begin to tell the story of what the case is about. 

The Closing Arugment 

In contrast, the closing is called a “closing argument” because, unlike the opening, the attorneys will have evidence to argue about.  Thus, the closing argument’s purpose is, in a way, the opposite of “setting the stage.”  The closing is meant to pull it all together

The closing argument should take the concepts introduced when the attorney set the stage in the opening statement, and conceptually connect them to all of the evidence presented throughout the trial.  In that way, an effective closing argument can show how all the evidence presented (pulled together in one argument for the jury) supports the narrative, the story, that was started in the opening statement.

Overall, attorneys can use openings and closings to great effect to persuade a jury.  Yet, the quality of any opening or closing is dictated by the evidence at the trial.  It is like when you are cooking.  The quality of the cake is largely dependent upon the ingredients you use, rather than whether you are a master chef. 

Thus, if the evidence is great for your case, then a good opening and closing will enhance what is already a great case.  By contrast, when there is strong evidence against your side, it is very difficult to save the case in the opening statement or closing argument.

One important rule of thumb to keep in mind if you and your attorney are preparing for a drug trial.  Make sure that there is a clear narrative, a clear story, a clear through-line from opening to closing.  Do not make promises in the opening statement that you may not be able to deliver on at the end of the trial.  For example, do not promise a star witness who will break the case open, because that star witness might get cold feet at the last minute and not show up to trial.  Also, in your closing, make sure that your attorney does not get combative or lose the ability to relate to the jury. 

Ultimately, the opening and closing is a way to directly relate to the jury in a manner that will allow the jurors to feel comfortable that they can trust what the attorney is telling them.  That kind of ability to relate will help jurors decide in your favor. 

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Tad Brittingham
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Criminal defense attorney Tad Brittingham is dedicated to serving his clients throughout the Cincinnati area
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