Monday, March 28, 2011

Closing Arguments

As these many murder trials around the state come to a close, I thought I'd write a note on closing arguments. In North Carolina, closing arguments don't proceed in the way they do in most states.

As documented time and again in law and order, in most jurisdictions the State gives a closing argument, then the defendant gives a closing argument, then the state gets the final word in a rebuttal argument.

In North Carolina, the defendant gets the final closing argument, unless he or she "introduces evidence." However, introducing evidence is more nuanced than it sounds.

First, publishing any evidence to jury or calling any witness to the stand counts as introducting evidence. However, crossing on any new matter that was not "relevant to the testimony submitted on direct" is also included.

How can a defendant get evidence before the jury and still give the final closing. Here are some ways to walk up to the line, but not cross it.
  • Reading Transcripts/documents: On cross examination, a defendant can read transcripts or documents as part of their questions (as long as relevant to direct testimony). As long as the defense doesn't go so far as asking to publish the documents to the jury, no evidence has been introduced. State v. Bell. But, while you can read the transcript, you can't play the tape/video of the prior statement. State v. Yoes.

  • Witness Character: asking traditional questions that challenge character for the witness are "relevant" to the testimony, even if off topic (classic example: "Isn't it true you were convicting of perjury in 2005?") State v. Raper.

  • Refreshing Recollection: you can give objects/documents to the witness to refresh their recollection, as long as you don't move its admission into evidence. State v. Hall.

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