What Should an Opening Statement Contain?

by George Lawrence J.D.; Updated September 26, 2017

One of the most dramatic aspects of a civil or criminal trial occurs when the attorneys deliver their opening statements. The opening statement allows each party a chance to grip the jury right from the start of the case and, hopefully, persuade them and keep their attention as the case proceeds. The party with the burden of proof goes first. In a criminal trial, this is the prosecution; in civil trials, the plaintiff starts.

Introduction of Theme

While the bulk of an opening statement should be very persuasive and frame the facts in a way that the jury will agree with the attorney’s argument, the first section of the statement is fairly basic. The attorney should stand, introduce herself and state who she represents. Next, she should provide a quick statement about the theme of her case. The theme is something that should be woven through the entire statement and brought out during trial. In a domestic abuse trial, for example, a statement of the theme might be “This case is about an abusive, jealous alcoholic with a quick temper and a violent attitude.”

Logical Presentation of the Facts

With the theme in place, the attorney should tell the jury a story. The story must contain the facts of the case, be absent of legal arguments and present the facts in a logical, persuasive manner. A simple, chronological recitation of the facts can be appropriate, but is not always necessary. As long as there is a logical presentation of the facts and as long as care is taken to ensure that the jury clearly sees the case from the client’s perspective, the attorney can deliver a presentation of the facts as he sees fit. The attorney must, however, address the strengths of the case as well as the weaknesses.

List of Key Witnesses

The attorney should list the key witnesses who will be called and what they will testify about. The statement should address the evidence used by both parties as well. The attorney can address these topics during the factual presentation; the key is to keep it organized. She should also explain any legal issues or concepts so that the jury understands them.

Conclusion

At the end of the opening statement, the attorney ought to give a brief summary to further instill on the jury the case from his client’s point of view. He should ask the jury to find for his client’s favor. A statement such as, “Based on the evidence presented here, we will ask you to find for the plaintiff” works, but it should be persuasive and explain why the jury should find for the plaintiff.

About the Author

Based in Traverse City, Mich., George Lawrence has been writing professionally since 2009. His work primarily appears on various websites. An avid outdoorsman, Lawrence holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in both criminal justice and English from Michigan State University, as well as a Juris Doctor from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where he graduated with honors.