Opening Statements

Opening Statements:

Excerpt from Julien Opening Statements § 1.09. – Introduction.

The Introduction consists of two parts. The first is an opening sentence stating what the case is about. It should include: (1) what the defendant did wrong; (2) what happened to the plaintiff as a result of the defendant’s wrongful act; (3) the legal basis for the case; and (4) the type and severity of the plaintiff’s injuries. For example:

Ladies and gentlemen, this case involves Peter Jones, a six-year-old boy who, on June 16, 1979, lost his right eye when the defendant carelessly and without warning fired a .22 caliber rifle at him.

Members of the jury, on May 1, 1977, Mr. Jones, the plaintiff, was stopped at a red light when his car was slammed in the rear by the speeding and inattentive defendant. As a result, Mr. Jones suffered a broken back and is afflicted with pain which will continue for as long as he lives.

Following this opening sentence the attorney should briefly explain what will happen as the trial unfolds. Here, counsel should make his only reference to the fact that the opening statement is not evidence and is only a statement of what he expects to prove during the trial. Having done this, the attorney should tell the jury about the order of the trial. The attorney can use the opportunity to explain the order of trial to accomplish one of the purposes of the opening statement, namely, to make the jurors feel included and less uncertain about what is occurring and their role in the proceedings.

Point out that after the opening statements the trial itself will begin and the evidence will be produced. Each of the sources of evidence should be identified and defined. Testimony can be defined as the evidence the jury will hear directly from the witnesses. The jury should be told what depositions and interrogatories are and that the answers given to deposition questions and interrogatories are made under oath. If reading from a deposition is to serve in lieu of live testimony, the jury should be informed that this does not detract from its credibility or cause it to be any less worthy of their attention. Exhibits can be defined as things which the jury can see, for example, photographs and diagrams, or documents which contain important and relevant facts. You may also want to explain to the jury the piecemeal fashion in which evidence is introduced.

Finally, a brief description of the remaining trial activities should be given, such as final arguments, jury instructions and jury deliberation.

After this introductory portion of the opening statement, counsel should present the parties and witnesses to the jury.

The particular form of the introduction will vary according to the specifics of the case at hand, and the personal style of the lawyer. For example, it can be effective to start with a gripping description of an aspect of the accident or of the plaintiff’s present condition:

When the doorbell rings at the Marca home in Deming, New Mexico, it does no good for Edwardo Marca to respond, he cannot open the door.

When the phone rings, Edwardo Marca does not answer it; he can not reach for the phone.

When Edwardo Marca’s children need him in their bedrooms – Edwardo Jr., 17, years old, Christina, 14, and Jose, 8 – Edwardo Marca cannot help them; his wheelchair cannot fit through the doors.

Edwardo Marca cannot get around without his wheelchair. He is almost as dependent on his wheelchair as he is on everyone around him for each and every one of his needs. The burden falls heaviest on his wife, Felicia, God bless her.

Edwardo Marca is quadriplegic, paralyzed.

He was not always this way, and the how and why he got that way is what this case is all about.

-Angel L. Saenz

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