Posted September 14, 2017 by Mark Hauser
How important is the closing argument in a criminal trial? Extremely, other than cross examination, it is the most important part of the criminal trial for the defendant (in my humble opinion obviously since there is no right or wrong answer to all of this). While first impressions, i.e., the opening arguments, are always very important, no facts have been presented so the attorney cannot draw conclusions or make logical arguments yet for the jury (or judge) to consider. And while studies do show that juries often form an opinion after opening arguments — evidence, closing arguments, and jury deliberations can all easily change that opinion.
So, what makes a great closing argument in a defendant’s criminal trial? First off, there has to be some conviction and emotion from the attorney during the closing argument. (After all, if the jury doesn’t think that the attorney does not feel that there is reasonable doubt, neither will the jury.) Secondly, the attorney must summarize the important facts thoroughly yet concisely so that the jury will consider of all them in their deliberations. Third, the facts that are not in the defendant’s favor must be minimized in the jury’s mind. Fourth, the facts that are in the defendant’s favor must be emphasized and the attorney must explain to the jury why these are the most important facts for the jury to consider. Fifth, the attorney must quote the most important parts of the law for the jury to consider. This includes explaining to the jury that the defense does not to have prove anything (except when the defendant asserts a affirmative defense, which is beyond the scope of this article). Plus, the attorney must explain to the jury what “reasonable doubt” is, and emphasize that it has a high standard of proof (the highest in our court system).
Sixth, and most importantly, the attorney must explain to the jury how the pertinent facts relate to the criminal charges. Each criminal charge has required elements that have to be satisfied for a defendant to be found guilty of that particular charge; the attorney must argue (and hopefully show) using the facts that the required elements have not been met. This step is most important because it is something that the jury generally has no experience doing and needs guidance. Lastly, of course, the attorney must ask the jury to find the defendant not guilty of all, or in some cases (where there is overwhelming evidence against some of the charges), some of the charges.