The opening statements in a court of law are the jury’s introduction to the case before them. This is not the time to present arguments, but only to lay the framework for what is to come during the trial. The prosecuting attorney will tell the jury about the evidence that he intends to produce and how it relates to a proof of guilt while the defense attorney will explain how that same evidence will be refuted.
An experienced defense attorney knows that an opening statement can amount to a first impression not only of his own competence but of how his client is perceived. Physical appearance and personality counts – people can’t help but be influenced by a distinguished manner of speaking and a nice suit of clothes. A good example of the importance of a respectable demeanor is the fact that a defendant is allowed to wear street clothes during his trial so that the jury isn’t adversely influenced by prison garb.
One of the objectives of the opening statement is to make the jury members want to hear more. It gives a defense attorney the opportunity to guide the jury through the case by telling the story through the eyes of his client and letting them develop an insight to the defendant’s perspective.
The prosecution goes first. Both sides know that this is to the advantage of the defense. Getting to hear about some of the evidence that prosecution intends to introduce will give the defense a better idea of what to be prepared for. The defense can take anything that the prosecution has said in their opening statement and repudiate it with their own findings. Objections are usually not allowed during opening statements, so the response by the defense as to what the prosecution has presented is the last thing the jury will hear during opening statements.
A seasoned defense attorney will have learned not to overstate his intentions during his opening statement. If he can’t live up to what he promises in opening the prosecution will use it against him in closing.
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