The Closing Argument, Part 2
All of the evidence, all of the arguments: everything comes down to the closing statement. I follow four principles when it comes time to bring together all the threads in the trial and present a cohesive, credible, and memorable case to the panel. In the closing argument, I develop my theories of the case and address its weaknesses (see the previous post), and I remind the panel about the burden of proof. I conclude by telling them directly that I want them to recognize my client’s innocence and let him go.
Principle 3. Argue Burden of Proof
The burden of proof falls on the prosecution. In the closing statement, I remind the panel that my client is presumed innocent until the government prosecutor proves to an evidentiary certainty that he is not. Has the government done this?, I ask.
Have they extinguished all reasonable doubt in your minds? Did they explain to you why the accuser only reported this case after her husband accused her of cheating? Did they explain to you why the accuser deleted evidence and misled law enforcement? Did they properly explain to you why the accuser went back to the party and continued to drink after the alleged assault? The accuser herself says that she had to fight my client off her. Well, how come not a single witness observed so much as a scratch on her face? The accuser claimed that she yelled at my client to stop, but nobody in the hotel next door heard anything. Does that make sense?
Ladies and gentlemen of the panel, these unanswered questions are reasonable doubt. In short, the government cannot satisfy their burden in the case. Even after three days of trial and an investigation that lasted more than a year, we have unanswered questions. I submit to you, again, this case is saturated in doubt, and the government has fallen well short of its burden.
Principle 4. Conclude on a Strong Note
Now is not the time to tangle up the panel in technicalities and legalese. Instead, in wrapping up my case, I speak to them as I speak to my friends, telling them exactly what I want. I deliver one last recap of the theories of my case, then make my request:
I have nothing more to argue. I hope that you now see that my client is not guilty of this crime and that he has been falsely accused by a person who would do anything to save her marriage, career, and reputation. She has a motive to lie, and she did lie—to her husband and to the Air Force. Considering these facts, ladies and gentlemen, I ask that you let my client go home. That you find my client not guilty and let him walk out of here a free man. Thank you.
A good closing argument is the culmination of a narrative built piece-by-piece over the course of the trial. With preparation, skill, and maybe some luck, it will set you free.
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