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!
Steve Graham

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.

Any questions?  Leave them below in the comment section!!!

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

After you argue how each point is proven in your mock trial case, then you have to tie it all together in a cohesive way, and present the argument with emotion. If the jury does not see that you believe in your case, then they themselves will not believe in your case. You can use sayings, axioms, famous quotes, reference to literature and popular culture, understatement, hyperbole, mild sarcasm, appropriate humor, rhetorical questions, and appeals to patriotism, common sense, and notions of justice.  So applying those ideas to the crime of residential burglary, you might say: Well the defendant says he didn’t go in the home to commit a crime, just to use the phone. Is he the only person on the planet without a cell phone?  Couldn’t he have just asked to borrow a phone from a passerby? There is a saying that where there is smoke there is fire. Courts are a place where a lot of technical rules apply, but that doesn’t mean that you have to check you common sense at the door. The case is really very simple, he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  His explanation really just amounts to “the cat ate my homework.”  Don’t buy it.  Hold him accountable and find him guilty.  
Now, that is a lot of colorful language all crammed into one paragraph, but the point is to mix in this rhetoric in with your factual arguments?


 Post your questions below in the comment section!!!

See more samples of closing arguments here.


Check out the closing arguments on YouTube.  Or check out:

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.

Mock Trial Opening Statement

An mock trial opening statement is scored both on the content and also on delivery.

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.

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.

Mock trial competitors often struggle with the concept of the leading question. Lawyers also struggle with this. Everyone has heard of the courtroom objection, but it is difficult to define when a question is “leading” and when it is not. It is often said by lawyers that a leading question is a “question that suggests an answer”.   But legal texts define it as follows: A leading question is one which, either through form or substance of the interrogation, instructs a witness, or puts words in the witness’s mouth to be echoed back, or one which suggests to a witness the answer desired. (See Glen Weissenberger, Federal Evidence 1996 Courtroom Manual 134 (1995); Black’s Law Dictionary 888-89 (6th ed. 1991).] Generally, each judge has his or her own limit on how much an attorney is allowed to “lead” a witness. Courts have ruled that “the allowance of a leading question is within the discretion of the court, and is no ground for reversal.” See Farmers’ Co. v. Groff, 87 Penn. St. 124.

The problem for lawyers, is where do you draw the line?  For example, let’s say a prosecutor is interviewing a witness who observed an armed man who was fleeing the scene of a bank robbery.  A prosecutor may ask: “Did you see Mr. Smith fleeing the scene with a gun?”  That would be leading.  But what about the questions “Did you see Mr. Smith fleeing the scene?” or “Was Mr. Smith fleeing the scene?”?  The problem is that most judges would also likely find even those questions to be leading.  A lawyer is usually left with simply asking the witness if he observed “anyone fleeing the scene”.  The problem with this is that the witness is likely to then decribe any number of people fleeing the scene, such as bank tellers or account holders.  A lawyer would then meekly ask “uhm, anyone else?” and simply hope that the witness gets the idea.  You can kind of see now why some trials take weeks and weeks to get through testimony.  On the subject of the defendant fleeing with a gun, a lawyer would typically ask: “Was there anything in Mr. Smith’s hand?” or “was he carrying anything of note?”  Those questions seem simple enough, but often times a nervous witness will “choke” and find the phrase “anything of note” to be confusing.  This is particularly true if the witness mistakenly assumes that lawyers will ask fairly straight forward questions.   What a good trial lawyer does is to craft questions that are just leading enough without raising an objection.  This takes practice.  In the context of a mock trial competition, your classmate witnesses will generally know where you are trying to go with a question.  And unlike a real trial, it is not wrong or unethical to “prep” a witness for a mock trial competition. Student attorneys score points by how well they can ask non-leading questions, and they also score points by making timely objections to improper questions.  See my earlier post: Preparing for that Big Mock Trial Cross-Examination, Part I.

There are a few exceptions when a lawyer is allowed to ask a leading question.  First, on cross examination, a lawyer may always ask leading questions.  (That is, when you are questioning witnesses from the team of the opposing school.  Second, a lawyer is sometimes allowed to ask leading questions of an expert witness.  Third, a lawyer may ask the judge to declare a witness “hostile” and ask him or her leading questions.  I have never seen this last category work in real life however.

Let’s face it, it is not pleasant to be cross-examined. The witness is at a disadvantage. The lawyer has the element of surprise. He or she knows in advance what they are going to ask. The witness does not. Here are some tips to help you get through a mock trial cross-examine.
1. Know your witness statement inside and out. Also it is also helpful to read the other witness statements. You cannot answer based on what other witnesses have experienced, but it may help you anticipate what the cross-examiner will ask. In real life this would be impermissible witness prep, but is not prohibited in mock trial.

2. Remember what “overruled” and “sustain” mean. If an objection is made to the question, you may answer the question if the judge “overrules” the objection. If the judge “sustains” the question, you may not attempt to answer, and you have to wait for the next question to be asked.

3. When prepping for your mock trial, make sure you get a commitment from your lawyer teammate to protect you on the stand. If the cross-examiner is badgering you, or asking improper questions, you cannot object. Rather your teammate lawyer must object. The natural tendency is for mock trial student lawyers to relax after they have completed their direct examination. This is not good. They need to keep on their toes to protect you during cross examination. I like to use the analogy of a player needing a block or a screen during sports.

4. Remember the answers “I don’t know”, “I don’t recall”, and “I can’t answer that”. To buy time so you can think, you can always ask the attorney to repeat the question. If all else fails, ask if you can ask for a glass of water. And I am only half kidding about that.

5. Prepare to testify by sitting in the witness chair. Sitting in the witness chair can cause a little stage fright for the first time. “Test drive” the chair before trial, to get the cushion right, the microphone right, and to see how it feels.

6. Stay in character. Unlike real life, the mock trial scenario only provides limited information. If the questioner, asks you “what color was the get away car?” you can’t answer if that wasn’t in the classroom material. “I don’t recall” is a better answer than saying that it wasn’t in the class material.

Ultimately, you will score point for your team by knowing the material, and by remaining patient with the questioner, and not getting flustered. If the lawyer is needlessly rude or sarcastic during the cross examination, you score points simply by not responding in turn.

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