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Closing Argument Excerpt - DUI Case

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How a Compelling Closing Argument can Win Your Case

Presenting your closing argument at trial is your last chance to tell your client's story and the last impression that jurors will have of you working as the victim's advocate to win their case. During the closing arguments, you will present the whole testimony and evidence that will build the framework for the jury to decide the outcome of the trial.

Hopefully, throughout the trial, you remained flexible in assessing the weaknesses and strengths of your case. How you formulate your thoughts and what you say now will show the jury your client's perspective on exactly what happened through the victim's eyes in describing how the event unfolded.

Example:

“Was there negligence on the part of the defendant that was a legal cause of damage to plaintiff? The evidence has shown clearly and convincingly that defendant, sixteen years old, a minor, in violation of the law went to a party and intentionally consumed alcoholic beverages, became impaired with alcohol, and got behind that wheel drunk.

And when he got behind the wheel drunk, he turned that big Chrysler into a weapon of destruction. He came down south A1A going at least a minimum of sixty-five to seventy miles an hour, fishtailing down the road in the rain, slid across the center line, and hit plaintiff, killing himself and very nearly killing her, ruining her life for the rest of her life.

When defendant got behind the wheel impaired by alcohol, it was a death sentence for him, and it was a life sentence for the plaintiff. You've seen the tip of the iceberg of it, but a life of pain, suffering, disability, disfigurement, mental anguish that have kept her from enjoying life in the past and severely impair her ability to enjoy it in the future.”

Westlaw. © 2014 Thomson Reuters. No Claim to Orig. U.S. Govt. Works.

Organizing and Building Your Closing Argument

When organizing your thoughts in building your closing argument, know the law concerning your case. Consider the instructions the judge will provide the jury and be prepared to discuss each issue during your closing. Have the facts concerning the lawsuit and speak the names of each witness that provided testimony during the trial, especially the names of the defendant. State the pertinent times and dates clearly and concisely of every incident or event occurred in the plaintiff's storyline, and properly pronounce every key factor, name, and location involved in the case.

As the plaintiff's attorney presenting a closing argument, you will speak before the defendant's lawyer and afterward. When organizing your closing argument for presentation, you need to remember that the defendant's attorney will speak only once and must cover everything during a single presentation. While this limitation could be especially beneficial to your client, it could present a problem if the defendant appears to be the case underdog and will not be able to defend your concluding thoughts when you rise to rebut the defense's argument at the very end of the trial. Choose your words carefully.

Next, understand the policies concerning closing arguments in this judge's courtroom. Learn how much time the judge will provide you to make your argument before you are cut off mid-sentence at what might be a critical point in your presentation. The jury will always appreciate a counselor who knows how to tell the story quickly, then stops talking. Rambling on could turn the crowning moment of your presentation into an anti-climactic disaster.

Developing a Good Story

The surest way to capture and keep the jury's attention is to tell a compelling story filled with fascinating facts and evidence formulated around an appealing theme. Present the facts to the jury while keeping terms and complicated information simple. Show the jurors how the theory based on your lawsuit applies to the facts. Reveal the civil laws that support the theory and how you have met the burden of proof in your client's case. Clearly, state the correlation of all facts that prove your case using words that every juror will understand.

It is crucial to link the closing argument with your opening statement to build an arc of your storyline. Show how you answered every question throughout the trial that you presented during your opening to prove that you have been honest with the jury all along. Formulate an easy to understand explanation of your client's damages and specify what actions the jury can take in their verdict and award. Speak your final remarks with confidence to ensure your last words have maximum impact on every juror.

It is essential to let each juror know that the plaintiff filed the lawsuit with the specific intention of righting a wrong that was done to them and they had the legal power to do that. Stating this during your closing argument is important because the defendant's attorney might argue that holding their client accountable could also be wrong.

Finding Your Voice

Every attorney who negotiates a settlement or litigation case at trial has their own personal speaking and presentation style. Tailoring the strengths of your uniqueness and finding your voice can be an effective tactic when discussing the facts, loss, and theory of the case with the jury. However, never speak to the jurors in a way that sounds argumentative or condescending.

Find ways to personalize and humanize your client and show their failings as a commonality we all share. Recognize that every juror will need to be reminded that any decision they make will affect a living human being with real feelings, injuries, and financial problems for years to come. Throughout your closing argument, express your emotions carefully, especially if the testimony given on the stand was highly emotional already.

You will need to talk to the jury about your client losing their earning capacity. During this part of your closing argument, emphasize their work qualifications and how they are likely never going to earn the same living as before or have the potential for a higher paying job in the future because of their injuries. If you are seeking recompense for psychological damages, then prove how your injured client has been affected.

Describe in easy to comprehend language just how many different factors of their present life have changed significantly since their injury occurred. Dismantle the total damage figure into smaller amounts and discuss how much the client paid expert witnesses and the cost to put on a trial so the victim could present the case to the jury. Discuss your client's life expectancy and how the verdict they award the victim will need to carry them through the next two or three decades when the cost of living will be significantly higher than today.

Speak openly about your client's physical, mental, and emotional pain they endure every day since they were injured. However, recognize that it is a natural tendency to avoid speaking of pain because it makes others uncomfortable. Looking into each juror's eyes while you were describing how much the victim hurts will provide a good measure on when to stop talking.

Review each pertinent exhibit carefully in front of the jury box by holding up and touching every item. Tell the jurors that they can request any exhibit be brought to the deliberation room while they are considering a verdict.

Structuring Your Closing Argument

The easiest way to build a compelling storyline is to start at the beginning with what you told the jury during your opening statement. Review the testimony that every crucial witness provided in the order they appeared on the stand with the jurors. Do not avoid highlighting the weaknesses of your witnesses that will likely be pointed out by the defense attorney. Instead, present the bad parts of your case openly to diminish your opponent's power when they present their closing to take away the sting. The jury will respect you if you present all the evidence, good or bad, knowing you have spoken the truth to them all along.

Define each issue the jury will need to consider during their deliberation. Explain how the law and facts required them to resolve certain issues that will likely favor your client. Summarize the case facts as they have been presented to the jurors through testimony and evidence. Show how the opposing attorney omitted certain facts that hurt their client and discuss how some testimony from opposing witnesses conflated different problems that have no relevance to each other. As an example, the opposing attorney might have shown how some unflattering behavior of your client would have made them responsible for their injuries when nothing could be further from the truth.

Show your appreciation to the jury in the role they play in resolving the case. Use words that show you believe they are equals to the judge and the court system. Avoid using patronizing words or speaking down to any juror but do thank them for the time they have taken out of their busy lives to participate in maintaining justice.

Presenting Your Case

Knowledge of organized your thoughts, found your voice and structured your argument, you are ready to present your closing to the jury. Before the moment arrives, practice your speech repeatedly to avoid reading off of the page or staring at notes. Construct a mental or written outline that highlights the points you want to make when it is your turn to stand at the podium. Develop key thoughts that will help trigger a broader statement you wish to present to the jury during your closing.

Use evidence and visual aids to break up the monotony of you standing alone in front of the jurors. Redirecting a juror's focus while you move around in front of the jury box will create a more enjoyable experience for each juror who will likely go along with you as you present the end of your client's story.

Avoiding Catastrophic Mistakes

Any mistake or error during the closing argument could produce a catastrophic outcome. Common mistakes that attorneys may make include:

  • The lawyer twisted or misstated the evidence,

  • The attorney criticized the judge or the justice system,

  • The plaintiff's lawyer attacked the opponent, which caused jurors to sympathize with the defense,

  • The attorney oversold their case,

  • The plaintiff's attorneys were thrown off their game because of the defense's objections,

  • The lawyer displayed false emotions,

  • The plaintiff's attorneys showed the jury their personal belief,

  • The lawyer used difficult legal terms and big words that confused the jury box,

  • Some catastrophic event that occurred in the courtroom caused the removal of the plaintiff in front of the jury.

How you present a closing argument at trial must conclude with pointing the jury toward a specific outcome. There could be nothing worse for your client than to end your argument on a low note other than attempting to start your closing from the beginning again. Instead, be confident in the final words you spoke.

End your presentation positively, forcefully, and convincingly. Let the jury know that the trial has ended, and that you appreciate them for doing their job and finding the right verdict based on the evidence and the law. Walk back to the plaintiff's table, sit down, turn, and smile at the jurors. Your months of work in gathering evidence, taking depositions, reviewing interrogatories, building a case and presenting evidence at trial has concluded. Now it is the jury's time to move the case forward to its ultimate conclusion.

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