Volunteering to present the opening statement for your mock trial team poses a challenge. It may mean that you are the first to speak in the entire competition. To review, let’s go over the order of a trial again. First the prosecutor gives an opening, then the defense, then the prosecutor calls her witnesses, the defense calls witnesses, the prosecutor does the closing argument, the defense closes, then the prosecutor gets to speak one more time in rebuttal. So if you volunteer to present the opening statement you will be speaking first. Until now, the jury will not have heard anything about your case. So the opening statement is an opportunity to outline the facts as you anticipate they will be presented. The opening statement is not really an opportunity to argue your case, but it is an opportunity for you to begin to convince the jury about the strength of your case, or the strength of your defense. Here is an outline of a real traditional prosecution opening statement:
- Good morning, my name is ____ and I represent the State.
- This is my opportunity to outline the evidence as I anticipate it will be presented.
- I will call three witnesses.
- The first witness will be so and so, and he will testify as to such and such.
- The second witness will be so and so, and he will testify as to such and such.
- The third witness will be so and so, and he will testify as to such and such.
- At the conclusion of the case, we will ask you to convict the defendant of the crime as charged, thank you.
So that is basically how a prosecutor does an opening. It may take 3 minutes, or it may take 20 minutes based on how many witnesses you have and how thoroughly you cover the “such and such” of the expected testimony. In a mock trial, typically the prosecutor has 3 or 4 witnesses, and the time spent on an opening will be 5 minutes or less. The above outline is a real basic opening statement. To some it is a little bland, or formulaic, but in my job as a criminal defense lawyer, I do often see prosecutors deliver such openings. It basically gets the job done. And in a mock trial, that is often what a student lawyer is trying to do.
Now, students in a mock trial competition often want to know how to score the most points in an opening statement. First off, don’t read the opening. I wouldn’t try to memorize it either. Rather I would write out an outline of what you want to say, and then rehearse it 20 times. Usually this is hard for students to do; there is a tendency to try to memorize it, or to just read a pre-written statement. However, you will lose points if you read an opening. You just never see lawyers (even inexperienced one) do that in court.
Also, it seems like judges will score you on making good eye contact with the jurors, and delivering the opening with some level of feeling or emotion. The closing is more an opportunity for persuasion, but your opening should contain a little element of drama. Also, you will be judged on covering all the strongest points of your case. You could lose points by including facts that are later not covered. The best way to get good is to practice your opening statement in front of your classmates.
See also our new post on Tips for a Prosecution Opening.
Here is a sample opening statement from a fictional trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.