Is this you? You don’t know where to start on your opening statement? That is a common feeling for students having to write a mock trial opening statement or closing argument. Suddenly you wish you paid more attention when your parents were watching Law & Order reruns. Well, there is help for you. An attorney has broke it down for you here, so check it out: CLICK HERE. He knows what he is talking about. He has been coaching mock trial since you were watching Rugrats. It will give you some good ideas on how to get started as a lawyer in a mock trial, and guide you along the way. If you have any feedback or suggestions, post it below. As always thanks for visiting my mock trial blog.
I just found this amazing website with samples of closing arguments for prosecution and defense! (O.k. it’s one of my sites). The attorney goes through a fact pattern on an assault case involving a claim of self-defense, and also a burglary case involving potential mistaken identity and a coerced confession. There will be more examples of closing arguments coming in the weeks to come. Check it out. Here is the website. If you can think of other closing argument topics to write about (besides burglary and assault) let me know in the comment section below.
Unlike a cross examination which is hard to plan, a direct examination is all about planning. Here are a few suggestions to help your mock trial direct examination go smoothly.
1. Make Sure Your Witness is Prepared
A witness needs to know his or her mock trial witness statement inside and out. When you rehearse, quiz them on all the facts in their witness statement to make sure they know their witness statement. This will help them on cross-examination too. Also, see our post on tips for witnesses.
2. Don’t Attempt to Script the Direct Examination
While it is proper to prepare a list of questions or make an outline, you don’t want to entirely script the direct examination. A cross examination that is totally scripted will sound artificial, and will lead your witness to be thrown off when there are objections, or if you have to rephrase the question.
3. Prepare for the “Leading Question” Objection
The “leading question” objection is the most important objection to know for a mock trial direct examination. See our earlier post on leading questions. Practice rephrasing your questions in a less leading manner. For example, instead of asking “Did the defendant point a gun at you?”, you can ask “Was there anything in the defendants hand?” and when the witness responds “Yes, a gun”, you can ask them “In what direction did the defendant point the gun.”
4. Coordinate with the Attorney that is Doing the Closing Argument
It is important that you discuss your direct examination with your classmate that is doing the closing argument. You need to elicit or establish certain facts that he or she wants to use during their closing argument.
5. Lay the Foundation for Your Questions
If you have an expert witness, you will need to establish his or her qualifications before they can render an opinion. Likewise with fact witnesses you may need to explain how they know the information on the subject they wish to testify.
6. Prepare to Respond to Objections
The best way to prepare to respond to objections is to rehearse your mock trial and have a classmate make objections during your direct examination. There are two types of objections that you will face during your mock trial direct examination. There may be objections to the form of your question, and even if a question is proper, you may face objections on the response that your witness makes.
7. Study Examples of Direct Examinations
I am not sure what to write about next. I have covered prosecutor’s opening, defense opening, prosecutor closings, defense closing, leading questions, cross exams for lawyers and witnesses, general tips for witnesses, and dealing with forgetful witnesses, and hearsay, etc. I need the readers to give me some feedback in terms of what other questions students have. Also to make this blog more interactive, I added the social “share” buttons below. So if you find an article or blog post helpful, go ahead and share it. Thanks! Mock Trial questions answered here!
As you probably have already learned, the defense attorney delivers his or her closing argument after the prosecutor speaks. In addition, since the prosecutor has the burden of proof, he or she is allowed to speak again after the defense counsel speaks. The mock trial defense lawyer only has one opportunity to speak. Unlike a prosecutor, who is able to plan his or her opening statement, the defense counsel has to be a little more prepared to think on their feet. The mock trial defense lawyer has to be prepared to respond to the points that the prosecutor is making.
The defense attorney should begin by thanking the jurors for their time. In a mock trial competition, it is best to write down 8 or 10 of your strongest points and be prepared to focus on them. You will want to weave in some of the themes from your case depending on the facts of your trial scenario. You should make a point of responding to the prosecutors closing argument. This shows the judge you were listening to the opposition when they were speaking and it shows you can think on your feet. For example, the defense counsel might say: “Now we have just listened to the prosecutor state that the police found fingerprints of my client at the scene of the burglary. However, that is not a very strong point considering that my client had been a guest at the victim’s home on earlier occasions.” Responding to an occasional point like this is better than just reading a prepared statement, or arguing off a prepared outline alone.
Aside from the above, here are a few arguments you often see defense lawyers bring up:
1. The burden of proof is very high – beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not sufficient to merely suspect that someone did something.
2. The defendant in a court of law has no burden to prove his or her own innocence.
3. The police should have done a more thorough investigation: i.e. talked to more witnesses, looked for DNA evidence, dusted for finger prints in more locations, attempted to locate security cameras.
4. Bias of witnesses – the police, the eye-witnesses, the expert witnesses etc.
5. Describe your client in the best possible light, i.e. argue that he wouldn’t commit the crime as alleged.
6. Remind the mock trial jurors that they must be unanimous to convict your client.
See some samples of closing arguments here.
Here is an example of a classic closing argument:
So you are nearing the end of your mock trial, and now it is time for you to do your closing argument. Hopefully you have given this a little thought before it is your turn to get up and speak. Unlike an opening statement, which can be written entirely in advance, the closing argument has to be written as the trial goes along. It has to be adjusted depending on what evidence is admitted by the trial court. The mock trial closing argument will depend a lot on the particular facts of your case, but I will try to make a few suggestions on how you can sketch out an outline.
You are an Advocate for One Side
Remember that your closing argument is just that, an argument. You need to convince the jury of the merits of your arguments – not to consider the facts from a neutral point of view. No matter what sort of case the prosecutor is handling, the prosecutor’s position is always the same: there is no reasonable doubt.
Echo Your Opening Statement
Much like an opening statement, you begin by thanking the jurors for their time. You want to remind the jury of what you said in your opening. For example: “Good afternoon ladies and and gentlemen – thank you for your time and attention to this very important matter here today. As I [or my colleague] stated this morning, the evidence against so-and-so is really overwhelming, and we would ask you to return a verdict of guilty.”
Cover the Elements of the Crime
Every crime has elements, i.e. the things the prosecutor has to prove to make a case. For example the elements of residential burglary, are:
1) entering without permission,
2) into a residence,
3) with the intent to commit a crime.
Look at the mock trial materials your teacher or coach gave you and consider what the elements of the crime are in your case. In other words, what does a prosecutor have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt?
Making Compelling Arguments
See more samples of closing arguments here.
Post by Steve Graham.
I wrote last month about presenting a mock trial opening statement for a prosecutor, so this post will deal with an opening statement for a defense lawyer. Before I launch into my suggestions, let’s talk a little bit about what the role of a defense lawyer is in a trial. The defense lawyer’s job is to make sure that his or her client gets a fair trial, and that means that the defense lawyer must advocate for the client’s point of view.
Most of the time a defense lawyer does not succeed in convincing a jury of a the defendant’s actual innocence. Usually when a defendant is acquitted (found “not guilty”), the jurors make that decision based on the fact that there was some small measure of doubt in their minds as to the defendant’s guilt. These doubts is what the defense lawyer raises, and there is no better place to begin then in the defense opening statement.
If you haven’t already, go ahead and read last months tips for the prosecutor’s opening statement. You will find helpful suggestions, and the post with help you anticipate what a prosecutor might present. In your defense opening statement, your job is raise some doubt in the jurors minds about the prosecutor’s claims as to what your client has done. So after you introduce yourself, and tell the jurors who you represent, you should begin to highlight the facts in the case that support your defense theory. If the prosecutor points out that he has a solid eye witness to the crime, point out that the witness was over 150 feet away, or that the witness was biased, or that he is not very credible. If the prosecutor says that your clients fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime, point out that your client was previously present on the scene as a guest, or that he trespassed but did not steal anything. If the prosecutor claims your client was caught red-handed with the stolen items in his possession, point out that your client may not have known the items were stolen.
Your mock trial defense opening statement might go a little like this:
- Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my name is so-and-so and it is my privilege to represent (name of client) in this case before you today.
- You have heard the prosecutor explain what she hopes will be proven, but the prosecutor did not tell you all the facts.
- The prosecutor has explained that my client was “identified” as the bank robber, but in fact this supposed eye-witness is a man that has held a grudge against my client for a long time, and he has made many inconsistent statements about the case.
- The prosecutor has explained that my client was found the next day with over 50 thousand dollars, but none of those bills’ serial numbers was matched to any bank, and my client had the money due to a recent inheritance.
- The prosecutor has stated that my client confessed to the robbery, but this statement was made to the police under coercion, and my client is mentally ill and didn’t know what he was saying.
- So we would ask you to keep an open mind and listen to ALL the evidence, and return a verdict of “not guilty”. Thank you.
So now that you have spoken, the jurors in the mock trial will at least be prepared to listen to both sides. Keep in mind, that you just can’t make this “doubt” up out of thin air. Every “doubt” must exist in the mock trial packet your teacher gives you, and you need to prep all your lawyer teammates and witness teammates to cover all the fact that are important. For example, if you state in your opening that your client had all that cash due to a recent inheritance, your classmate that is questioning the defendant on direct sure as heck better have the word “inheritance” on his outline of questions. You will lose points if you mention things in your opening statement if they are not later established by the testimony.
I have notice that I have had a lot more visitors to my mock trial blog lately. Let’s hear from you students or teachers as to what questions you have, or what topics you might find helpful. I have been doing jury trials for almost 17 years as both a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer. I have also coached mock trial teams since about 1997. If you have any questions or suggestions post them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading. :)
See also our new post on How to Write Opening Statements.