Jury trial tips: Constructing an opening statement
Dr. Manges Ph.D. | Forensic Psychologist
Jury Trials and Opening Statements
When using a model story, or theme as the foundation for your case, you will want to begin telling your story the first chance you have to talk to the jury. Except for what jurors may have learned through voir dire, you are essentially starting out with a tabula rosa, a blank slate. Thus, the opening statement becomes critical in giving the jury a sense of the case.
Following are some points to consider when constructing your opening statements:
80-85% of all jurors form either an opinion about the case or form impressions which serve as filters through which all evidence moves, by the end of the opening statement
Explain the case narratively, using the “big picture.” Do not think as a lawyer, but as a storyteller
Tell your story in a natural, chronological order, keeping the listeners’ attention
Do not get bogged down in detail but do not overlook interesting facts that strengthen the case
Pull out the essential points of the case – reassure the jury it in case they can understand and decide
Do not overstate or exaggerate
Key parts of a successful storytelling
Identify characters through interesting human interest details
Explain their conduct through the motive
Tie your story together with a moral point- or theme of the case
Use imagery to get the jury to visualize the scenario
To be persuasive, think like a juror.
You have to choose key elements and use them to structure your story. How your story is structured affects whether juries perceive it as true or false.
As the plaintiff’s lawyer, you must create a credible story that is consistent with each party’s behavior while also being ready to counter the defense counsel’s strategy.
As the defense counsel, you have 4 basic strategy options.
A combination of all 3
Challenge – good for when plaintiff’s counsel has not constructed a sound or consistent story. Use it show important elements are poorly supported by evidence/testimony or do not exist.
Redefinition – good for when the plaintiff’s story is complete. This relies on your ability to find ambiguous elements that can support a different definition while simultaneously affecting the meaning of the plaintiff’s story.
Reconstruction – introduce evidence that tells a different story about the defendant’s behavior
Combination – despite which strategy is used, the story must be complete and nonambiguous.
It is important to select your theme and to weave it throughout every aspect of your case which you expect the jury to rely upon in making a decision.
For References used in this fact sheet, please contact Dr. Manges & Associates, Inc.
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