DUI Trial Arguments: Opening and Closing Arguments
Opening statements in DUI cases:
There is never a second chance to make a first impression, right?
If you answered “yes,” then you can begin to understand the importance of opening statements in DUI cases. The opening statement is the first chance a DUI lawyer has in most cases to explain the defense’s theory of the case.
Studies show that by the time the evidence is closed, most jurors have already made up their minds. In order to help guide their minds to where you want them to go, your lawyer will have to set the stage early. The goals of opening statements from a DUI defense lawyer’s perspective are, at a minimum:
- To establish rapport with the jury;
- To set expectations about both the good and bad points of the case;
- To “draw the sting” on the negative aspects by bringing them into the light day early on;
- To tell the jury what the defense case will show (since the prosecutor will go first);
- And to make predictions about what holes the state’s evidence will have so that the jurors can look for them while the listen to the state’s case.
In rare cases, it may be a good idea for the DUI lawyer to play “hide the ball” during opening so as not to tip the prosecutor or police officer off to a major point that is best served as a surprise, or which the state could correct if they knew about it before the officer took the stand. However, most of the time it is best to get all of the information that you want the jury to consider out there early.
Good DUI trial lawyers know that it is not the longest opening statement that is most effective. It is important to be respectful of the jury’s time, and not repeat points over and over again. It is also important to be well organized and prepared. Let the prosecutor put the jury to sleep, but don’t let your lawyer do it.
Some less experienced DUI defense lawyers feel that they have to say every possible things and argue every possible angle from the get go. This is most often a mistake, because the more information an attorney vomits at a jury, the more tuned out and turned off they will be. It is highly suggested for most DUI defense lawyers to take a few major points and emphasize them. Remember, a defense lawyer’s job is to point out or create reasonable doubt, not to prove anything.
Some attorneys bow to the pressure they perceive their clients put on them by expecting that everything will be covered. It is important for DUI lawyers to explain to their clients early what they are doing, so that their clients understand and are comfortable with how the lawyer presents the case.
Some DUI lawyers believe it is imperative to always ask the jury to find their client not guilty at the end of opening statements. Others believe that doing this causes an immediate credibility gap, and prefer to approach it from the angle of telling the jury that the state will fail to prove its case because there is reasonable doubt. Each lawyer is different, and every trial needs to stand on its own. Therefore, you should not apply the theories that were used in one case to all cases.
In the end, opening statements are about showing the jury why the lawyer is there, why the client is a likable person and deserving of the benefit of the doubt, and about setting the tone for the trial.
Closing Arguments in DUI Cases:
The closing argument is the DUI defense attorney’s last chance to talk with the jury and explain his or her theory of the case. Although statistically most jurors have already made up their minds by the time closing arguments begin, it is important to either solidify their decision or dislodge it, depending on which way they lean.
Closing arguments serve to arm jurors with arguments that they can use in the jury room to support their own conclusion when debating against fellow jurors who drew different conclusions. From the defense perspective, it is better to have a divided jury than a jury united in the belief that the client is guilty. Closing lets the DUI lawyer tie in the subtle points, especially in regards to chemical evidence.
Closing is also about letting the jury know that they are, in a very real way, about to decide someone’s fate. Whether it is a first offense misdemeanor DUI where the client is exposed to one day in jail, or a fifth offense felony where the client is looking at immediately serving a four year prison term, it is a major decision in the client’s life. It is the defense lawyer’s job to help the jury to appreciate that they aren’t just deciding something trivial, but rather something that could devastate a persons personal and professional life.
In the end, closing arguments are about affirming the credibility of your side of the story, and about poking holes in the opposition’s side of the story. Just like opening statements in DUI cases, closing arguments do not need to be long or elaborate. They should be concise, focused and to the point.