A closing statement is a statement made at the end of a debate, or more often, a legal trial, delivered by a representative of each side of the case or debate. It is the last chance for both parties of said debate or trial to state their argument, and hopefully affect the verdict or outcome in their favor. Often, the closing statement is the most important and memorable part of the legal process, given its placement at the conclusion of the trial and its dramatic nature, and it is usually organized in a specific way.
Characteristics of a Closing Statement
There are several defining characteristics of a closing statement. First of all, any reference to a closing statement is usually referring to one presented at the end of a legal trial, though it can sometimes mean the final statement of a professional debate, or the conclusion of a speech. All three of these types of statements share similar qualities, however.
A closing statement must be persuasive, because it is delivered by one who supports a particular side of an argument. In the legal sense, a closing statement is delivered by the attorney on either side of the case: the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney. If the defendant or plaintiff, the person or company on each side of the case, is unrepresented, meaning without a lawyer to argue on his or her behalf, he or she has the option to deliver a closing statement of his or her own creation.
A closing statement’s initial purpose is to summarize the findings of the trial, which has already taken place before the statement is delivered. The findings of the trial include anything of merit that has been discussed or discovered throughout the case, such as what kind of evidence has been presented, and what sort of information the witnesses for both the prosecution and defense have contributed. The verdict in most trials is decided by a jury of twelve citizens, or by the judge overseeing the case. Either way, the closing statement should summarize and present the case in a way that convinces the judge or jury that the speaker’s side of the argument is the correct one. If you are the prosecuting attorney, you want your statement to conclude for the jury that the defendant is guilty of whatever he or she has been charged with. If you are the defense attorney, you want your statement to conclude that your client, the defendant, is innocent of said charge.
Closing statements take place only after both sides of the case have presented evidence and examined witnesses to the lawyers’ satisfaction. Sometimes this process takes up a few hours, but depending on the case and the specific charge, trials can go on for days, weeks, or months. The only aspects remaining of the trial after the closing statements have been delivered are the jury’s deliberation, followed by the delivery of a verdict. Both the content and the delivery of a closing statement are incredibly important, because it is the last thing a lawyer can say to the jury or judge before a final decision is made about the case.
Writing and Organizing a Closing Statement
A closing statement needs to incorporate a few key elements in order to accomplish its goal, to persuade those listening of a particular fact or idea. These elements should be organized and addressed to both the jury and the judge, who are responsible for the verdict and the possible sentence, respectively. These elements include:
The way things stood at the beginning of the trial: Your statement should begin by detailing the state of affairs when the trial began, whether that was this morning or five months ago (the length of a statement correlates with the length of the trial, in most cases). This can include the charges laid against the defendant, their relationship to the plaintiff, and the circumstances that led to those charges being pressed. Any background information that you deem important to the verdict should be mentioned at the start of your statement.
What has developed since: This part of the statement is more like a summarization of the trial itself. This is the part of your statement that should include any piece of evidence or testimony from a witness that favors your side of the argument. Anything that casts doubt upon the innocence of your client should, of course, be left out of your closing statement, unless you can cast doubt on that particular piece of evidence or witness testimony. If a particular piece of evidence appears to have been tampered with, or the story of one of the witnesses seems unreliable, this is the area of your statement in which to bring up those doubts, and share your reasoning with those listening. This part of the statement is dedicated to summarizing the trial in a biased way, attempting to make your side of the case appear to be the correct one, beyond a doubt.
Conclusions to be drawn from the trial: After you’ve summarized, you’ll want to explain the way you have interpreted the events of the trial, and why that interpretation makes you correct. Drawing on particular testimony or evidence, you want to explain why the jury or judge should side with you and your client. This is admittedly much easier if your client is truly innocent of whatever he or she is being charged with, by the way. The important things to include here are the presentation of evidence from both sides, the testimony of witnesses from both sides, and any aspect of those things that work in your favor, leaving out anything that makes the other side look good.
Final argument: The final words of a closing statement are often very passionate, demonstrating the importance of justice, and explaining how you and your client have used the legal system to prove guilt, if you’re prosecuting, or innocence, if you’re defending. Whatever you say in the final sentences of your closing statement, make sure your words will leave a lasting impression on the judge or jury. As stated above, these are the final words to be considered before a verdict is reached.
A Fictional Closing Statement Example:
A closing statement often proves to be the most dramatic or memorable part of the legal process. The concept of justice and punishing those who have done wrong is inherently exciting for people, and fictional books and television shows play off that excitement all the time. A very famous fictional example of a closing statement comes from Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ In the novel, Atticus Finch, a southern lawyer, must defend a black man against charges of rape and assault. As it turns out, the hand with which Tom, the defendant, supposedly hit a white woman is useless to him, making it impossible that he is guilty of injuring her. Atticus incorporates this very important discovery into his closing statement, saying, “Now there is circumstantial evidence to indicate that Mayella Ewell was beaten savagely by someone who led, almost exclusively, with his left [hand]. And Tom Robinson now sits before you, having taken “The Oath” with the only good hand he possesses — his right.” Atticus attempts to sway the jury using the most important development of the case, summarizing what has been discovered and explaining why it makes Tom innocent.
A Famous Closing Statement Example:
One of the most famous legal trials in modern history was the trial of O.J. Simpson, who was charged with murdering his ex-wife and her boyfriend in 1994. The trial lasted for nearly a year, so the closing statement of Simpson’s defense attorney, Johnnie Cochran, was extensive and lengthy, In his statement he addressed an important development from the trial—the fact that the gloves worn by the suspected murderer did not fit Simpson’s hands. He told the judge and jury, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” This phrase is now incredibly famous. Cochran, like Atticus Finch, developed a statement that supported the innocence of his client, using the parts of the trial that cast the most doubt on the prosecution’s charges.
A closing statement can, and sometimes does, sway the outcome of a trial. Though in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Tom is convicted of the crime he certainly did not commit, Johnnie Cochran’s focus on the glove issue contributed to Simpson being found not guilty of the murders. The Simpson verdict led to outrage among many Americans, as the rest of trial had seemed to indicate Simpson’s certain guilt. In both of these examples, the cases concluded in an unexpected way, reminding those watching or reading that no matter what, a trial is decided by a jury alone.
For better or for worse, a closing statement, if crafted and delivered well, can turn the tide of a legal trial, and help you to succeed in winning the case, whether you’re on the side of the prosecution or the defense. The power of persuasion and the ability to deliver a convincing statement is a highly sought after and powerful skill.