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.