Getting the Jury on Your Side
Closing arguments are the final opportunity you have to influence the jury. It is simple: there is a story to be finished and this is our chance to do that (consider me on your side). I assume we have started the trial with a theme. Our evidence has been allowed to be heard, more or less in accordance with the design you had developed. The opposing side’s evidence went in more successfully than was expected or hoped, but their motions have not closed the case out yet.
Now is the last and best time to deliver on the theme. It is time to get the jury on our client’s side. You have just a few moments to pull the case together. Don’t take too many moments (a 90-minute final argument for a day-and-half trial is too much) to remind the jurors of the purpose of this trial. Justice needs to be done, and they are sworn to do justice (and let’s hope justice is helpful to our client.)
They need a few hooks to hang their discussion on when they get into the jury room. The law is a good hook. What law allows our client to prevail? Tell them, show them, and let them know that the law is on our side. A statute can be read and shown with PowerPoint. Case law can be discussed, if we get the judge to instruct on it.
Emotion is another good hook. If possible, we need to get the jury to want to help our client. The client has suffered an injustice, and the jurors should want the good guy to win in this battle we call a trial. We want the client to win, so there should be a mutual desire—if they understand that our client is the good guy.
Damages are the final hook. We must convince the jurors of the damages our client has suffered. They have to understand and accept the losses actually suffered, more than the amount told them. Twenty-five years ago, I tried a trashed apartment case. My client, the landlord, had $7,438 in damages suffered. I explained to the jury several times that he was out $7,438 in damages, with a broken stove, a dented refrigerator, ripped carpet (can you believe that!) and the need for new paint. We had photos, and the testimony of the landlord, a local businessman. The other side had “poor kid who didn’t do it, and please ignore the repair sheet the kid had signed when he moved in” as its best argument. In rebuttal, I remind the jury one last time about the damages, I pause for dramatic effect, and juror #3 says, “We know—$7,438.” I was so proud, my client was so happy, and the other side was crestfallen.
So be sure to tell the jurors what they need for the hook that is the damages, it is critically important. They won’t award you a fair judgment without knowing about the damages suffered.
Yes, the jury came in, and its award on the trashed apartment was $1,174. The judge said he thought he had seen justice done.
Ted A. Waggoner is a small firm lawyer with Peterson & Waggoner, LLP, in Rochester, IN. Visit his Web site at http://www.peterson-waggoner.com/.