If you need to write an opening statement but aren’t a lawyer, you might be getting ready to take part in a mock trial. Mock trials are immersive learning experiences that provide students with the opportunity to learn about the justice system while enhancing academic skills. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the opening statement is where that first impression takes place during a mock trial, which is why it’s so important to write a good one.
Opening Statement in a Mock Trial
An opening statement is basically an introduction to the nature and facts of a case. Given at the beginning of a trial, an opening statement is an opportunity for lawyers on both sides to give the jury a brief overview of the case, and outline the key evidence that you will present. How you write your opening statement depends on which side of the case you are writing it for.
Opening Statement for the Prosecution/Plaintiff
If you were assigned the role of attorney for the prosecution or plaintiff, you will be the first to deliver your opening statement, which means yours is the first side the jury will hear. The purpose of your opening statement is to highlight the key facts of the case and circumstances surrounding it, summarize critical evidence and identify the request for relief that your client is seeking (jail time for criminal cases or money for civil cases).
Opening Statement for the Defense
If you get the role of defense attorney, you will give your opening statement immediately following the prosecution or plaintiff’s statement. Yours is the last thing the jury will hear before the questioning begins. Remember that as the defense attorney, your role is not to prove your client’s innocence (he’s already presumed innocent until proven guilty), but rather to call the validity of the prosecution or plaintiff’s case into question. The purpose of your opening statement is to essentially deny the claims made by the prosecution or plaintiff, and highlight the key facts of the case from the defendant’s perspective.
Features of a Good Opening Statement
No matter what side of the case you are on, your opening statement should include the name of the case, your name, your client’s name, your opponent’s name and a summary of the key facts and evidence. A good opening statement is one in which you provide a complete and compelling narrative of events that supports the side you represent without going into too much detail or making specific arguments. Strong opening statements make it easy for a jury to understand and remember by providing a roadmap of the case such as key facts you will try to prove and a summary of the witness testimony or other evidence that will help you prove those facts.
Opening Statement Pointers
Do write a compelling opening statement that clearly identifies the most important aspects of the case as it relates to your side. Lay out how you expect the trial to proceed and how you expect witnesses to testify. Memorize your opening statement. Knowing it by heart will make a better impression on the jury than if you read from a paper. Use proper body language and tone of voice to make a favorable impression as you deliver your opening statement. Last, but not least, do request a specific verdict. End the opening statement by asking the jury to find in favor of your side.
Don't try to make specific arguments in your opening statement. Avoid bringing up legal principles or making arguments about how the law may apply to the facts of the case. Don't mention any testimony or evidence that you cannot successfully back up during the trial. Don't bog the jury down with too many details. Avoid exaggerations, overstatements and repetition of facts that are not in dispute. Don’t anticipate what the other side will say, and don’t bring up your opponent’s strong points during your opening. Finally, avoid pacing or walking in circles while you deliver your opening statement because this tends to distract the jury.
- Be short and to the point. Being long-winded will lose the jury's attention and possibly irritate some members.
- Doherty High School Mock Trial: How to Make a Strong Opening Statement
- George Mason University: Mock Trial
- American Mock Trial Association: New Team Handbook
- Ohio Center for Law-Related Education: Putting on Mock Trials
- Smart Law: Mock Trials
- District 47 Teacher Portal: How to Write Opening Statements for Mock Trial