Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu

What To Know About Opening Statements


Imagine the opening sequences from the most iconic movies set in Miami.  From Scarface to The Birdcage and from One Night in Miami to the Bad Boys series, the first impression the audience gets is that of the beauty and peril of South Florida.  The images tell you where the story that is about to unfold will take place, while the music sets the mood.  During this scene before the first scene, a series of names also appears on the screen, but these leave more questions than answers.  These are merely the names of the actors who play leading roles in the film.  The opening titles do not say the names of the character each actor will be playing, and unless you have watched the movie trailer or read reviews, you know almost nothing about each character’s role in the story, much less which of them will still be alive when the ending credits roll.  Just as the opening titles and closing credits of a movie are similar in content but serve different purposes, and likewise the introduction and conclusion of an essay, so it is with the opening statements and closing arguments at a criminal trial.  Here, our Miami criminal defense lawyer explains how an effective opening statement can set you on the path to acquittal, and how sometimes the best choice is not to make an opening statement at all.

The Role of Opening Statements in a Criminal Case

You can think of the opening statement as the introduction paragraph to your side of a criminal trial.  If you prefer a different metaphor, you can think of it as the overture or the table of contents.  At the beginning of a criminal trial after the jury is sworn in, the prosecution makes an opening statement, since its goal in the trial is to prove that the defendant is guilty of the charges at hand.  Next, the defense makes its opening statement, since the goal of the defense is to establish doubt about the defendant’s guilt.

The prosecutor’s opening statement describes the charges the defendant is facing and includes the prosecution’s thesis statement about why they believe that the defendant is guilty.  Likewise, the defense’s opening statement contains their thesis statement about why there is room for doubt about the defendant’s guilt.  Each side lists the witnesses they intend to summon and briefly describes what the testimony of each witness will illustrate.

The opening statements do not ask jurors to connect the dots among the various pieces of testimony, nor do they imply which inferences the jury should make.  It is entirely possible to write an effective opening statement in a criminal trial without the word “therefore.”

Opening Statements Dos and Don’ts

The most effective opening statements are brief.  They are free of legal jargon and of obvious appeals to emotion.  They do not give away too many details; you can win your case by pacing the surprising moments of witness testimony strategically throughout your case, so the opening statement is no place for spoilers.

On the other hand, you must already know what your defense strategy will be before you plan the opening statement.  All of the evidence that you present in your trial should confirm the assertions that you made in your opening statement.  This way, in the closing arguments, your lawyer can tell the jury what they should conclude based on the evidence they have heard.  Consider, also, that even though the content of the trial will be a surprise to the jury, not only do you know what your witnesses will say, but you have a clear idea of the prosecution’s strategy and witnesses; you will have found this out during pretrial discovery.  Opening statements are not the time to improvise.

What If Your Lawyer Decides Not to Make an Opening Statement at All?

Even though you know what the jury will hear during the trial, you do not know how they will react.  Therefore, defense lawyers tend to leave their opening statements brief and open-ended, so that, in the closing arguments, they can focus on the most poignant points of testimony in their closing arguments, without contradicting the opening statement.  If a closing argument contradicts the opening statement, it makes it look like the lawyers are grasping at straws.  In some cases, criminal defense lawyers choose not to make an opening statement at all.  They choose, instead, to see where the prosecution falters during the trial and then seize on that during the closing arguments.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys

A South Florida criminal defense lawyer can help you get your trial started off right with effective opening statements.  Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo in Miami, Florida for a confidential consultation about your case.




Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

© 2018 - 2024 Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC, Attorneys at Law. All rights reserved.
This law firm website and legal marketing are managed by MileMark Media.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.