Opening statements mark the beginning of the trial.
It is your first chance to speak about your case in court.
You should briefly tell the judge what you think the case is about. Be sure to tell the judge what facts you are going to present during the trial. This is not a time for opinions or arguments-just stick to the facts.
At the end of your opening statement, be sure to tell the judge that the evidence presented during the trial will support your side. Tell the judge exactly what verdict you want.
Keep your opening statement short and simple. For example, in a simple assault case your opening statement may be something like this:
Your Honor, the facts of the case will show that I did hit John Doe in the nose, but I did so in self-defense. John Doe and I have long been neighbors. He has been a good neighbor in the past, but recently he has been having fits of rage in which he throws patio furniture and rants and raves on his front lawn. Another neighbor will testify that he called the police the day before the fight between us in order to calm John Doe down after one of his rages. The head of the home owners association will testify that on the day of the incident, John Doe was having a fit and that he threw a lawn chair at my head and took a swing at me. I hit him in the nose to protect myself.
Do not worry about memorizing a speech. You may write your opening statement down and read it at the trial. By reading your opening statement off a sheet of paper, you won’t forget to mention everything you want to mention.
- Do Make an Opening Statement
- Do Keep it Shot and Logical
- Don't Give Opinions or Arguments
The facts introduced during the trial are based primarily upon the testimony of the witnesses given during direct examinations. What the witnesses say while on the witness stand and under oath, therefore, is one of the most important parts of the trial.
As with all parts of the trial, the key to a successful direct examination is preparation. You need to choose your witnesses wisely and to prepare your questions before the trial.
As mentioned before, your witnesses should be people who were at the scene and who heard or saw something that establishes the facts. In most trials at Tucson City Court, one or two eye-witnesses will help the judge figure out what happened much more effectively than three or more witness who say the same thing or who can only speak about what kind of person you are.
When preparing questions for your witnesses, start with the beginning and take the judge through the story in small steps. The questions should be direct, clear, and asked to bring out a specific point or fact. Ask your witnesses questions that bring out the facts that support your defense and challenge the State’s case. Ask one question at a time and give your witness time to answer.
Be sure not to forget yourself when choosing witnesses and preparing questions. At your trial at City Court, your best witness, sometimes your only witness, may be yourself. It is your decision to testify or not. You do not have to testify if you do not want to do so. The prosecutor cannot make you testify, nor can the judge.
If you choose NOT to testify on your own behalf, the judge cannot use that as proof of your guilt.
If you want to testify on your own behalf, you will be sworn in under oath like any other witness. Since it is unreasonable for you to ask yourself questions, the judge will allow you to just tell your story in a narrative form. That means you can just talk. If you plan to testify, prepare what you want to say. As with other witnesses, keep your testimony short and to the point.
Remember when you testify, you give the prosecutor the chance to cross-examine you. Be prepared for the cross–examination. Use the advice that you should give to your own witnesses: be polite and calm, and answer the questions directly and truthfully.
- Do Prepare Your Questions Before the Trial
- Do Choose Your Witnesses Wisely
- Don’t Bring Character Witnesses
You have the right to question all of the State’s witnesses, and the State has the right to question all of your witnesses, including you, if you choose to testify.
Prepare your questions prior to the trial. Use a series of short, related questions to get to the point.
When questioning the State’s witnesses you should be confident and in control. However, you should not belittle, harass, or argue with them. They merely happened to see, hear, or experience something in a way that is favorable to the State’s case.
Your goal in questioning the State’s witnesses is not to confuse them or to make them look foolish. Your goal is to point out inconsistencies or problems with their testimony. This may include questioning how truthful they are, but this technique is best used only by experienced lawyers who are skilled at cross-examinations.
- Do Ask Short, Clear Questions
- Do Give Witnesses Time to Answer
- Don’t Argue With the Witness
This is the last chance for you to speak to the court. You should give your opinion by making an argument based upon the evidence presented.
Tell the judge what the case is about and why the case should be decided in your favor. Focus on the strengths of your case and the weaknesses of the State's case. Do not bring up facts that were not discussed during the trial.
Remember that longer is not necessarily better. For most trials at Tucson City Court, only a few minutes to review the facts and present your argument clearly is necessary. Even if your closing argument is short, you may want to write it down and read it to the court so that you do not leave out any important points.
- Do Make a Closing Argument
- Don’t Bring Up New Facts