Opening Statements During A Criminal Trial

In a criminal proceeding each side has the opportunity to present an opening statement to the judge or jury. The prosecution presents its opening statement first and then the defendant presents his or her opening statement. In some states, the trial judge permits the defendant to defer giving his opening statement until the close of the prosecution's case. If there are multiple defendants being tried in one case, each attorney may give an opening statement for each defendant.

Goals of an Opening Statement

An opening statement should be short and concise. The statement should be given in a non-argumentative manner. The opening statement is basically a blueprint of what each side intends to prove in the case. The opening statement should give either the trial judge or jury a good overview of the case and of the position purported by the prosecution or defendant.

Purpose of the Prosecution's Opening Statement

The purpose of the prosecution's opening statement is to give a logical preview of the evidence it intends to present during the defendant's trial. The prosecution should explain to the trial judge or jury how it intends to present certain evidence and witnesses to show that the defendant committed the crime or crimes as charged.

Purpose of the Defendant's Opening Statement

The defendant may give an opening statement after the prosecution has delivered its opening statement. The purpose of the defendant's opening statement is to give a preview of the defendant's intended defense and case. The defendant is not required to prove anything during a criminal trial. Moreover, the defendant may also waive his or her right to give an opening statement, although waiver of an opening statement may not be proper in all cases. The opening statement may give the defendant an opportunity to develop a rapport with the trial judge or with the jury. If the defendant chooses to waive his or her opening statement, numerous factors must be taken into consideration, including:

  • What the perceived effect may be on the jury?
  • How valuable is the opportunity to address the trial judge or jury in the case?
  • What type of defense does the defendant intend to introduce?
  • How complex the facts of the case are?
  • What information was presented during the prosecution's opening statement?