Closing Argument In A Los Angeles Criminal Jury Trial
At last count, I did over two hundred jury trials in the course of the past twenty-five years of dealing with criminal defense cases in Los Angeles, throughout California and even some federal cases across the nation. A closing argument is probably the most important aspect of a trial because it’s where the lawyers argue for their positions. I usually like to get a theory of my case at the beginning and then I carry that theory all the way through the criminal trial and then the theory comes to fruition in the closing argument because the closing argument is really where you can talk frankly with the jury about your case. You can make your arguments. You can challenge the prosecutor’s evidence and case and you can really get down to the nitty-gritty and say listen, my client is not guilty and here’s why, and list every single thing. You can talk about the concept of reasonable doubt, the presumption of innocence and really let the jury know that the prosecutors have not proved their case and give them the specific reasons why. So, cross-examination ties everything together in a criminal defense case and if you’re not an effective arguer and you cannot effectively give a good closing argument, then you’re not going to be able to win your jury trial.
Another thing is as a criminal defense attorney is you have to listen to the prosecutor’s closing argument and be ready to challenge it. That takes a certain person. That takes a certain skill to be able to listen to what somebody else is arguing or even be prepared in advance as to what you know the prosecutor is going to argue and then be ready in your closing argument to basically destroy their argument and put your own argument in its place. What’s so crucial about it is in a criminal defense jury trial, the defense only gets one chance at a closing argument. The way that it works is at the end of the evidence – because the prosecutors have the burden, they get to go first, do their closing arguments, then the defense gets to go. They get to sit there and listen, and then the prosecutor has the last word. They get to talk one more time about closing arguments. So, as a defense attorney you have to be able to destroy their first closing argument and then be prepared that they’re going to come back around you and basically refute every single argument they have before they even say it. I’ve noticed that some prosecutors will hold back some of their arguments for the end because they know the criminal defense attorney in a jury trial is not going to be able to come back with a closing argument after they’re done.
Really what you’re doing in a closing argument is you’re going through the evidence that the prosecutors presented, and if you have presented any evidence, obviously you’re going to go through that evidence as well and then you’re going to talk to the jury about it and say – listen, what does this really prove? Here’s the elements of the crime that they had to prove. Here’s the evidence that they put on, and here’s the evidence that I think that you would see based on what they put on. This is where you poke holes in the prosecution’s case. This is where you show them to cross-examination that you did on their witnesses in order to prove that they did not meet their requirements. They did not meet their burden as prosecutors. A lot of times at the end, I talk about what’s called about an abiding conviction of guilt. That’s one of the jury instructions and if they don’t have that. If you can’t look back jurors years from now, and say yeah, we made the right decision in finding that defendant guilty, then you absolutely must find him not guilty, and you really can get some powerful arguments in at the closing argument if you properly set up your theme, you’ve properly examined the prosecution’s witnesses and if you’ve even put on evidence yourself, you can then go back and point to that evidence and point to your cross-examination and say look, they did not prove their case. They did not meet their burden, and because the defendant starts with the presumption that they’re innocent, unless the prosecutors meet their high standard of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt, you must find this defendant not guilty.
So, that’s one of the things that I talk about with clients when I sit down with them. I say, listen if this case goes to trial, they present their evidence, we present our evidence – here’s what it’s going to look at at the end to a jury, and here’s what the jury is going to have to find in order for you to be found not guilty. If we don’t feel very confident that they’re going to find you not guilty after the closing argument in this criminal trial, then you’re not going to trial, because if you go to trial then you lose, you’re probably going to end up with a much harsher punishment than if you would have just worked out a resolution with the prosecutor or through the judge. So, we’re talking about a jury trial right from the beginning and the themes of what can be proved and what can’t be proved when it comes to a criminal case and that’s why closing argument is so important to address when it comes to a criminal matter pending in any of the Los Angeles county courts.