Purpose of Opening Statements
We’ve all seen movies that reflect the power of an opening statement. Remember the movies “The Devil’s Advocate” or “Philadelphia” or “A Few Good Men?” All of these show powerful opening statements with a purpose. Remember the movie “My Cousin Vinny?” This movie does not reflect a powerful opening statement with a purpose, although it sure is funny!
“The purpose of opening statements is to outline what an attorney expects the evidence will establish, and control of opening statements is within the trial court’s discretion.” Bush v. State, 809 So.2d 107, 118 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002). The opening statement allows a party’s attorney to tell the jury what the case is about and the salient factual details of forthcoming testimony and evidence. To this point, Florida Standard Jury Instruction 202.2 which is read to the jury after it is sworn in contains a preliminary jury instruction that provides:
“In a few moments, the attorneys will each have a chance to make what are called opening statements. In an opening statement, an attorney is allowed to give you [his] [her] views about what the evidence will be in the trial and what you are likely to see and hear in the testimony.”
The opening statement gives the attorney the opportunity to persuasively convey the party’s theme or theory of the case along with those facts that will be supported by the evidence that fit into that theme. In other words, the opening statement allows the lawyer to tell the jury what the evidence will establish in the context of that party’s theory or theme of the case.
The opening statement should not be taken lightly. It is a vital part of persuasively presenting a case to a jury so that, among other things, the jury understands what evidence you are trying to present and what you are trying to prove with the evidence.
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