Purpose of Closing Argument

Posted by David Adelstein on May 28, 2015
Appeal, Trial Perspectives

We talked about the purpose of opening statements. Now, let’s talk about the purpose of closing argument.

One of my favorite all-time shows is Law and Order. Jack McCoy can certainly deliver a closing argument like no other where the purpose of his closing argument always seems abundantly clear. 

The purpose of closing argument is to help the jury understand the evidence presented to the law. See Murphy v. International Robotic Systems, Inc., 766 So.2d 1010 (Fla. 2000).   It serves as the final opportunity for the lawyer to fully connect his/her client’s theme of the case (possibly explained during opening) based on the evidence presented at trial and the applicable law. See id. at 1028 (“Attorneys should be afforded great latitude in presenting closing argument, but they must confine their argument to the facts and evidence presented to the jury and all logical deductions from the facts and evidence.”) (internal quotation omitted); Jean v. State, 27 So.3d 784, 786 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010) (“Counsel should be permitted to present all legitimate argument [during closing]. In doing so, the trial court must afford counsel wide latitude in presenting the closing argument.”) (internal citations omitted).

The value of closing argument cannot be overstated. It allows the lawyer to summarize the evidence in the client’s favor while persuasively serving as an advocate for the client.

After the jury is selected and sworn, the judge should read a preliminary jury instruction (per Section 202.2 of Florida’s Standard Civil Jury Instructions) that explains when a lawyer will give a closing argument:

Instructions Before Closing Arguments: After all the evidence has been presented to you, I will instruct you in the law that you must follow. It is important that you remember these instructions to assist you in evaluating the final attorney presentations, which come next, and, later, during your deliberations, to help you correctly sort through the evidence to reach your decision.
Closing Arguments: The attorneys will then have the opportunity to make their final presentations to you, which are called closing arguments.

There are, of course, things a lawyer should not do during closing argument such as personally vouch for the credibility of a witness or inject personal beliefs into the case. But there are indirect ways for a lawyer to go into the credibility of a witness or his/her theory of the case by focusing on that evidence supporting the theory and tying that evidence to applicable law.

If a party believes that the opposing party is giving an improper closing argument, it is imperative that they object. But, if they don’t object during closing argument, they must at least move for a new trial arguing that the opposing party’s argument constituted harmful or reversible error—that the unobjected to closing contained argument that is highly prejudicial and impaired fair consideration by the jury. See Murphy, 766 So.2d 1010 (explaining, however, that it is not improper to identify a witness as a liar or that he/she lied if supported by the evidence). Additionally, the party must establish that the unobjected to improper closing argument was incurable by a jury instruction (had it been timely objected to). See id. And, finally, the party must establish that the unobjected to, improper, harmful, and incurable closing argument damaged the fairness of the trial such that the public’s interest in the jury system requires a new trial. See id. Yes, this is a very difficult hurdle further supporting the importance of timely objecting to improper closing argument.

On the other hand, if a trial court gratuitously restricts an opposing party’s closing argument, such restriction could amount to an abuse of discretion. “[A]” trial court abuses its discretion when it fails to afford such latitude to defense [and plaintiff’s] counsel and, as a result, counsel is precluded from presenting his or her theory of the case to the jury.” See Jean, 27 So.3d at 786.

Ok, let’s get back to some more Jack McCoy:

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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