With the prevalence of “court shows” on television, many of our readers in Texas are familiar with the overall process of a civil jury trial. Trials start with jury selection, and then move through the steps of openings statements, the presentation of evidence, closing arguments, jury instructions, jury deliberation and then, hopefully, a verdict. Each step of a civil jury trial is crucial, but opening statements set the stage for what is to come, which means these statements can make or break a case.
So, what do our readers in Texas need to know about opening statements in trial? Well, for starters, it is important to understand that, although TV dramatizes things quite a bit, a jury trial is very much like a theater production, in a sense. The attorneys, their clients, and all of the witnesses in the case play a role, even when they are not speaking. Jury members oftentimes pay attention to every little detail as the production unfolds, such as, for example, how a defendant reacts to seemingly crucial testimony from another witness.
As a result, when an attorney is giving an opening statement, it is like a narrator setting the scene for the drama to come. But, it is part of a dialogue with the jury, as each side gets to present an opening statement. With that aspect of the back-and-forth in mind, the opening statement is used to provide an overview of the facts and evidence that will be presented, with an eye on what the ultimate goal will be in the case.
Opening statements that seem overly scripted may fall flat with a jury. Those that are overly dramatic may turn a jury off to that particular side’s case. Finding the right balance in an opening statement is crucial, as how a case starts almost always impacts how it ends.