JURY TRIAL — CLOSING
Closing arguments should be powerful, dramatic, and inspiring.
Rule 40(c)(5) of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure states:
The party with the burden of proof on the whole case under the pleadings should make the first and last argument in closing.
This rule is good for plaintiffs in personal injury cases because it allows them to have both the first word and the last word when they argue their case to the jury. The rules give this procedural advantage to plaintiffs because the plaintiffs are saddled with the burden of proof. The judge generally gives the parties equal time to present their closing arguments. The plaintiff argues first, and the defendant argues next. Lastly, provided the plaintiff has not already used all of his or her time, the plaintiff is given an opportunity to argue again in rebuttal. Having the last word is a nice advantage. To preserve that advantage, the plaintiff needs to be careful not to use up all of his or her time during the first part of the closing argument.
The duration of closing arguments is usually directly related to the complexity of the case. Closing arguments are generally substantially longer than opening statements, but the judge will still impose reasonable time limits. More importantly, you do not want to exceed the limits of your jury’s attention span. More is not necessarily better.
Closing arguments should be powerful, dramatic, and inspiring. Remember that during opening statements, the lawyers are limited to previewing the evidence for the jury. During closing arguments, the lawyers have much greater latitude. The lawyers will certainly summarize the evidence for the jury, but now — for the first time — the lawyers can argue directly to the jury. Now is the time for the lawyers to suggest the conclusions that the jury should draw from the evidence that has been presented.
FINAL JURY INSTRUCTIONS
The judge will normally confer with the parties at the close of evidence to develop a set of final jury instructions. The final jury instructions will instruct the jury as to the applicable law and as to the jury’s duties. The judge may hear arguments from the parties if there is a disagreement as to the content of the jury instructions. A party is entitled to an instruction on any theory reasonably supported by the evidence. AMERCO v. Shoen, 184 Ariz. 150, 907 P.2d 536 (Ct. App. Div. 1 1995), corrected, (Aug. 29, 1995). The judge must rule on the content of the final jury instructions before closing arguments are made, Rule 51(b)(3) Ariz. R. Civ. P., because the party’s arguments are likely to be tailored to the exact contents of the final jury instructions. However, the court generally will not read the final jury instructions to the jury until immediately after closing arguments are made. The jury will also be given a written copy of the jury instructions to take in its deliberations.
The philosophies, strategies, and tactics I’ve outlined above are the principles that guide our actions at Cluff Injury Lawyers. I’ve outlined them pedagogically to help anyone who wants to better understand these principles or improve their skills in utilizing them.
Author: Brigham Cluff