Personal Beliefs During Closing Argument

Personal Beliefs Should Not Be Assessed During Closing Argument

When presenting closing argument to the jury, you should never assert your personal belief about the facts in the case or about anyone’s credibility at trial. A trial lawyer who states what she thinks about the case or about the witnesses’ credibility during closing arguments will violate the law. Such conduct may even require reversal of the case as discussed in more detail below. A lawyer may not vouch for the credibility of a witness or even opine that a witness should be believed or not believed based on counsel’s statement to the jury that the witness was telling the truth. Sequin v. Hauser Motor Co., 357 So.2d 1089 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977). It is also improper for a trial lawyer to state that she believes that her client was seriously injured during an accident. Albertson’s, Inc. v. Brady, 475 So.2d 986 (Fla. 2d DCA 1989). Further, it is forbidden to state a personal belief during closing as to whether a party acted reasonably or unreasonably in causing the accident being litigated. See Moore v. Taylor Concrete & Supply Co., Inc., 553 So.2d 787 (Fla. 1989). A trial lawyer must never state her opinion of the opposing party or opposing counsel during closing argument. In cases where the plaintiffs’ attorneys have verbally attacked the opposing attorney and opposing parties as being liars, despicable and guilty of committing fraud upon the court and the jury, the Third District Court of Appeals has consistently reversed the cases and granted new trials. Kendall Skating Center, Inc. v. Martin, 498 So.2d 1137 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989); Sun Supermarkets, Inc. v. Fields, 568 So.2d 480 (Fla. 3d DCA 1990). Rather than alleging that the opposing party, opposing counsel and the opposing party’s witnesses are liars, a trial lawyer should simply point out the inconsistencies in the opposing side’s testimony, the bias and lack of credibility that the evidence has shown, followed by a simple question presented to the jury focusing on who the jury should believe. If for example, the plaintiff’s witnesses appear credible and have good qualifications and backgrounds, and if the defendant’s witnesses have made inconsistent statements, or have questionable motives for testifying the way they did during trial, then during closing argument, the plaintiff’s attorney should compare and contrast the testimony of the plaintiff’s witnesses against the defendant’s witnesses and ask the jury “who they are going to believe.” By handling the credibility problem of the opposing side in this fashion, the attorney may highlight what the problems are with the opposing side’s witnesses without basing it upon the attorney’s own opinion. During closing argument, remember to keep your personal belief out of the presentation. Instead, direct your comments to the evidence and the law and explain to the jury what conclusions should be reached without stating what “you believe.” Teach the jury, use logic, tell stories, but do not provide the jury with your personal opinions about the case. If you do, your case may be reversed.