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HOW TO WRITE A DEFENSE OPENING STATEMENT FOR A MOCK TRIAL

INTRODUCTION:

Good afternoon members of the jury, my name is so-and-so, and I together with my colleagues, represent the defendant in this case [name]. The defendant stands here today wrongly accused of the crime of______, a very serious matter. At the end of this trial, we are going to ask you to render a verdict of not guilty, the only appropriate verdict.undefined

THE THEME:

Members of the jury, this case is of [mistaken identity] or [My client punched Mr. Jones, but did so out of self-defense] or [my client did stab her husband, but was temporarily insane due to mental illness]. [There are a limited number of defenses to a criminal charge in a court of law. I cannot list them all here, but a defense lawyer should always be able to summarize his or defense in one or two sentences. Sometimes it is the position of the defense that the defendant is not guilty of the charge as alleged, but is guilty of a lesser charge. (For example, my client struck the victim with a stick, but the stick was too small to count as a “assault with a deadly weapon.”)]

CONTRADICT THE STATE’S THEORIES:

A common defense attorney strategy in opening statements is to start critiquing the state’s case, and letting the jury know that there are two sides to the story. Remember that as a defense attorney, you get the last word in opening statements. The prosecutor has to go first and unlike closing arguments, they may not speak again and rebut what you have to say. So take the opportunity to shoot holes in their case. In theory, you can reserve your opening statement until after the prosecution has rested, but this is rarely done (particularly in mock trial competitions). So how do you contradict the prosecutor’s opening? Here are some examples:

Members of the jury the prosecutor explained in her opening statement that her witness Mrs. Wong will testify that she witnessed the robbery from across the parking lot and she identified my client as the guilty party. However, Mrs. Wong will herself admit that it was very dark and rainy that night, and that she admitted she was only “90 percent sure” it was my client.

Or:

The prosecutor explained in his opening statement that my client confessed to the murder. However, this “confession” only happened after my client was with the police for 14 hours straight, and was kept up all night without any food or even any water.

So it is your job from the start to explain to the jury that there are two sides to the story.

Having coached mock trial for over 20 years, one thing I have noticed is that in every mock trial packet, there are little inconsistencies in both sides of the case for lawyers to point out in their presentations. However, it also does seem like there are some inconsistencies that are not terrible relevant, and you do not have to cover all of them due to the time restrictions. Even in real trials, lawyers make tactical decisions to not cover everything they possible could due to the limited attention span of jurors.undefined

SUMMARIZE EACH WITNESSES’ TESTIMONY:

Members of the jury, as the defense attorney, I will call three witnesses to testify. My first witness will be Doctor Jerome McGinnis. He will testify that he has been a psychologist for 30 years, and his specialty is forensic psychology. He will testify that he did an evaluation of my client and found him to be insane due to paranoid schizophrenia. My second witness will my Martha Jackson, who is a school psychologist at Lakeside High, where my client went to school. She will testify that my client suffered from mental illness dating back to 1999. Lastly my third witness will be Antonio Garza. Mr. Garza will testify that he was roommates with my client when he was in college, and he will testify as to the psychological breakdown that my client suffered during his years at Columbus University.

Laying out each witness’s expected testimony sequentially is a little formulaic and can come across as a little dry sometimes. Overreliance on this structure will mean you are unlikely to win a mock trial national championship, but if this is your first competition, a structure like this will be a good starting point. As you progress in the competition, you can vary from the formula to make it a little unpredictable and think on your feet a bit more.

CONCLUSION:

At the conclusion of this trial, the defense will ask that you find that our client is not guilty. The prosecution will not meet their burden of proof. Thank you.

For more information visit our Mock Trial Homepage.

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